Mini Book Review: The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle

Publisher: Harper Teen

Published: 6th September 2011 (expected)

Pages: 432

Format: ARC e-book

Genre: Contemporary

Recommended Reading Age: 16+

Rating: 5/10


‘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.’

I struggled with this one. I was expecting an emotional tear-jerker, unfortunately I found myself reading a dry, plodding book.  

The trouble is that we barely get introduced to Laurel’s family before they are all killed in a car accident. But unlike If I Stay (which this book is unavoidably being compared to), we never get to know them through Laurel as she grieves their deaths. In fact, neither her parents nor her little brother are barely mentioned again.

And that’s the main issue with The Beginning of After. Laurel displays little emotion over loosing everyone and falls back into normal life remarkably quickly and easily. She never really talks about them, not to her grandmother who moves in to look after her, not to her best friend, not even to David, who she supposedly has a connection with. Not weeks after their death, she is back at school, thinking about prom and trying to decide whether a boy at school really likes her or just pities her. Laurel doesn’t even come across as heartless. She just comes across as an incredibly boring, solitary, slightly selfish girl. We get one display of emotion from her when she breaks down near the end of the book, but by this point, I’m afraid I had lost all interest. The book is simply far too long, and dreadfully dull.

A love interest with David, who also looses his family in the same car crash, is hinted at, but like everything else, took a long time coming. David is barely in the story for the majority of it, and I really felt nothing between them. He, at least, shows signs of grieving and though his father is alive (albeit in a coma), he really has lost everything, while Laura at least still has a home and is loved. But we never get to experience David’s grief either, as he pops in and out of the book briefly. It’s almost as if the author decided to write a book about dealing with the death of a loved one, but then found she didn’t know how to express that grief on the page.

The Beginning of After is a humdrum look at a girl’s life after loosing her family. Though not badly written, there isn’t much in the way of a plot, and the characters lack… well character. For a story about grief, I saw very little of it, and it simply lacked emotion. I also detest books that spend any amount of time on the protagonist’s pets (particularly if it’s a dog) which unfortunately was the case here.

Dull, safe and far too long. Unfortunately, there are other books out there which have dealt with a very similar storyline and done it far better.


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