Sunday, February 5, 2012

Review: The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle

Usually the books I choose to read are Urban Fantasy or Paranormal, with some sort of supernatural factor. Occasionally, however, I'll toss in a contemporary, usually something Sarah Dessen or Elizabeth Scott-esque. The Beginning of After is one of those books. And that makes me pretty happy.

The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle 
Anyone who's had something truly crappy happen to them will tell you: It's all about Before and After. What I'm talking about here is the "ka-pow," shake-you-to-your-core-and-turn-your-bones-to-plastic kind of crappy. 
Sixteen-year-old Laurel's world changes instantly when her parents and brother are killed in a terrible car accident. Behind the wheel is the father of her bad-boy neighbor, David Kaufman, whose mother is also killed. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laurel navigates a new reality in which she and her best friend grow apart, boys may or may not be approaching her out of pity, overpowering memories lurk everywhere, and Mr. Kaufman is comatose but still very much alive. Through it all there is David, who swoops in and out of Laurel's life and to whom she finds herself attracted against her better judgment. She will forever be connected to him by their mutual loss--a connection that will change them both in unexpected ways. 
Jennifer Castle's debut novel is a heart-wrenching, surprisingly witty testament to how drastically life can change in the span of a single moment.
Laurel knows her life is good. But she never realizes it's completely about to change.

She never expects she'll lose her whole family in one cruel blow. One knock on the door from a police officer with his hat in his hands is all it takes for her world to implode. Her family is dead. And she's alone.

Well, not entirely alone. Her grandmother moves in to take care of her, and she still has her best friend, Meg. Besides that, her longtime crush Joe is finally starting to talk to her. But why couldn't he have noticed her before the accident?

To add to all that confusion, David Kaufman keeps showing up, whether it's to ask Laurel to take care of his dog, remind her a of a memory from their shared childhood, or just be a jerk. It's hard for Laurel to reconcile the memories of her childhood friend and the bad-boy jerk he became with this new, post-tragedy David. Because it's possible she might actually LIKE him.

This book is different than books I usually read, not just because it's contemporary, but because it's sad. I usually try to avoid sad books. I have read exactly one Nicholas Sparks novel, and only because it came strongly recommended from a friend. Oh, and I saw the Last Song movie, but mostly because of that cute guy in it and because it didn't occur to me until halfway til the movie that someone was going to die. Anyway. 

But despite it being sad, this book wasn't totally depressing, or depressed. Laurel is strong enough to keep living, to keep pressing on for her parents' and her brother's memory, and for her grandmother. She was a strong heroine and an admirable one.

But really, I've got to say, I liked David. Because even though he was a total jerkhead a lot of the time, you could see he was really a good guy, a guy who loves his dog and misses his mom and dad and wishes he made different choices. 

Altogether, this is a really great book with strong characters and strong feelings and strong friendships and it gets: <*><*><*><*><*>


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