Monday, 22 August 2011

Book Review: The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle.

Product details:
Publisher: Harper Teen.
Hardcover, 432 pages.
Release date: September 6th 2011.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Ages: 13+
Source: Netgalley.

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.

Jennifer Castle’s The Beginning of After is a debut that at first glace would appear to have an interesting premise and a lot of promise, but on an emotional level this book which deals with shocking deaths and the grief which follows, failed to hit the mark for me. While I didn’t hate it, nor did I love it, and as soon as I had turned the final page, I knew it wasn’t a book that would have any kind of lasting impact on me.

Essentially, the success of a book such as this hinges on the readers emotional connection to its characters, and here is where The Beginning of After falls short as at no time did I feel connected to Laurel on any level. Here is a sixteen year old girl who has just lost both her parents and her little brother in a car crash, and while I can safely say that Laurel and I don’t have a whole lot in common, I should feel sympathy or sadness for her, right? Wrong. Laurel makes that impossible. Everyone has different approaches to grief, and people have to do whatever it is that gets them through that awful time, but in Laurel’s case, she becomes detached from the awful event that has just happened. Adopting a ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to grieving, Laurel, always a top student, insists on keeping busy with school, SAT’s and her upcoming prom. Thoughts of her family are pushed to the back of her mind, essentially removing the characters from the story. We never get to know them, and so we never share Laurel’s loss. Laurel disconnects emotionally, which in turn makes us disconnect from her character, and from the story.

On reading the synopsis of The Beginning of After, I was reminded of Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, and as such, I had high hopes for this one. While the opening chapters of Castle’s book follow a similar path to Forman’s life affirming story, that’s where the similarities end. I was holding out some hope for the romance in this one, but I’m sad to report that David Kaufman, Laurel’s bad boy neighbour, is no Adam Wilde. Laurel and David are drawn together in their shared grief. David lost his mother in the crash that killed Laurel’s parents, and so understandably Laurel feels that David is the only one who truly understands what she is going through. The problem is that David is pretty much a jerk who spends most of his time feeling sorry for himself and behaving like a bratty three year old, while also messing with Laurel’s emotions. Laurel maintains a link to David through his dog, Masher, who she is taking care of since David is unable to cope with, well, anything. There is another guy who Laurel might be interested in, but she basically messes him around while waiting for David to return from his road trip so that he can mess her around. Fun!

So I guess the romantic aspect of this one didn’t work for me, but if this book has one saving grace, then it’s Masher and the other animals that are featured throughout the story. Laurel looks after Masher in David’s absence, she takes a job at a vet’s surgery, and she gives an abandoned family of cats a home. As a huge animal lover, I very much understand how important that the unconditional love of an animal can be to the grieving process, and that aspect of the story really worked for me. The animals in Laurel’s life make her feel worthwhile and give her a sense of purpose as she rebuilds her life without her family.

While I enjoyed parts of this story and while I do think the author shows promise, mostly I found The Beginning of After repetitive and ultimately forgettable. I always think that books of this nature should touch your soul in some way, but unfortunately instead of leaving me emotionally spent, this one just left me feeling indifferent.


  1. I got this one from NetGalley too and I have to admit that I enjoyed it more than you seemed to. But, such is life; no two bloggers are necessarily going to agree. I really liked your review, though, and you did have some great points.
    Hopefully your next read will be better!

  2. Bummer to hear that this was a disappointing read. Ditto that the premise sounds gripping (and I *loved* If I Stay), but a book like this hinges on a strong emotional connection. Without that, then I don't know if I'd be able to get into the story, either.

    Thanks for the honest review!


  3. Oh no another mixed review. Most reviews I have read say the same thing about the romance. I am very nervous for this book. Great honest review though :)

  4. Well-put! I definitely agree. For a girl who just lost her whole family, Laurel was pretty...okay with it. Her grandma moved in and life went on. I was really disappointed by the lack of emotion.

  5. Great review - very well put. I agree with everything you wrote and said something similar in my own review. Disappointing and forgettable, if not slightly boring.

    Amy @ Turn the Page

  6. An excellent review. You explanations about why you didn't like the book are certainly compelling. I can see how not connecting with the character would make the story hard to enjoy,which is always an important aspect to my enjoyment as well.

  7. I've seen a lot of mixed reviews for this one - I did like the original concept, but if there are issues with the romance and characters, I may have to leave this one. Thanks for the great review!

  8. "Laurel disconnects emotionally, which in turn makes us disconnect from her character, and from the story."

    Based on that sentence, I know this isn't teh book for me. While I completely understand her disconnecting emotionally as a coping mechanism, that would definitely make it nearly impossible to settle into the story and get involved with the lives of the characters. Beautiful review Leanna!

  9. I am beginning to think that NEet Galley is lethal!

  10. This book has me in tears! Loved the review!

  11. Great review! When I can't connect with a character, the story is over for me.

  12. Your thoughts on this one pretty much mimicked mine. I find that books based on the subject of grief really require you to emotionally connect with the characters. If you don't, then it's hard to like the book.

  13. As you said, the premise is really interesting - shame it didn't hit the mark for you. Thanks for the honest review though :)

  14. I didn't feel anything for Laurel either...I didn't like this book at all, which I think you may already know :( I feel bad saying my favorite part of a book are the pets/animals, lol! But for this book, that was the only thing I did like. Great review!

  15. what a lovely review! i haven't read this one yet, but i do have it in my tbr list on goodreads. despite your thoughts on the book, i do think i'll eventually get around to reading it. i'm glad you mentioned that it wasn't much like if i stay, because id rather have heard that than hear it was an if i stay knock-off. :)

  16. I was really undecided about whether or not I wanted to read this one. I've read a few reviews like yours now where people liked it but just didn't love it.

    Great write up as always!

  17. I wasn't a huge fan of this one either. :/ Great review, though!


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