I received this galley in consideration for an honest review.Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu
Published by Macmillan on September 20, 2016
Genres: Young Adult
When Caroline's little brother is kidnapped, his subsequent rescue leads to the discovery of Ethan, a teenager who has been living with the kidnapper since he was a young child himself. In the aftermath, Caroline can't help but wonder what Ethan knows about everything that happened to her brother, who is not readjusting well to life at home. And although Ethan is desperate for a friend, he can't see Caroline without experiencing a resurgence of traumatic memories. But after the media circus surrounding the kidnappings departs from their small Texas town, both Caroline and Ethan find that they need a friend--and their best option just might be each other
Afterward is a book that gives you a peek behind the curtain of the type of high-profile kidnapping story you might see sensationalized on national news. What happens when the cameras turn off and the families go home and try to rebuild their lives? Ethan and Caroline knew of each other in their small town, but the bizarre set of circumstances that connects them was the opening that led Caroline to Ethan’s garage for answers that her brother couldn’t give her. Caroline is watching her family implode and her non-verbal autistic brother is locked even deeper in a place where he cannot talk about his trauma. Ethan, on the other hand, wants so badly to be “normal” again, but the four years he spent with his abuser won’t allow him to move forward as quickly as he wants. Obviously, a lot of really good research went into this book and it shows in the way the writing so deftly communicates the intricacies of recovery. Ethan’s conflicted thoughts and the guilt he feels resonated with me as a reader. It felt very real. As a parent, I related in particular to Ethan’s mother, who was clinging to her lists and schedules as a method of control, but also so obviously heartbroken and afraid for her child. (Even as I am writing this, I am getting teary eyed thinking about it.) I wasn’t sure how the friendship between Caroline and Ethan would play out. Ethan is understandably reluctant to have anything to do with Caroline, at first, and I felt their (eventual) friendship was very realistic. It’s not as if anyone who had been in Ethan’s situation would find slipping back into his life or trusting people to be easy. However, for them, music was a starting point and it became their language of friendship, so to speak. I loved their discussions and debates about their favorite bands, and the way their interactions slowly changed as Ethan’s recovery progressed and Caroline’s understanding broadened.
One thing that really stood out to me was the way that access to mental health treatment varied based on income. Ethan’s family is well off and can afford to drive him to a private therapist every week. Caroline’s situation is much different. Her family is solidly working class, living paycheck-to-paycheck, and the thought of paying for a private therapist for her brother’s special needs outside of what the school system provides, simply isn’t an option. Any progress her brother made before his kidnapping is understandably stunted after his traumatic experience. Her mother’s obvious exhaustion, both mental and physical, was something I found so heartbreaking. Another aspect of the story that Afterward did so beautifully was the relationship between Ethan and his therapist, Dr. Greenberg. We see a lot of conversation around talk therapy in YA, but not as many books really show the hard work of therapy and Afterward did such a fantastic job. It shows the reader not only the pain and effort it takes to come back from trauma, but the way that talk therapy can truly help. It was such a positive and affirming interaction as Ethan made his painful journey toward recovery and I am so glad it was a part of this story. Really, the thing I want people to know most about this book, is than even though it is a very serious and sad subject, it’s overall feeling is one of hope. I loved the way that the pain and devastation grows into the idea that things can get better, people can recover given the right resources, and we can move forward after terrible experiences without letting them define us. Afterward definitely belongs on your reading list.