Cover The Beginning of After: A girl holds her legs close as she looks off into the distance

About the Book

Title: The Beginning of After
Published: 2011
Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Cover Story: You’re Pretty. Pretty EMO.
BFF Charm: Yay
Talky Talky: Dessen Disciple
Bonus Factors: Mysterious Loner Dude, Cameron Quick, Kickass Gram, Loyal Pet
Relationship Status: Going Steady

Cover Story: You’re Pretty. Pretty EMO.

Well, hey, at least we’ve got a full girl on the cover! Heads, legs, everything! Never mind the fact that she’s staring off moodily into the distance. And let’s not get into the awkward conversation I had at the dentist’s office when the receptionist asked me what I was reading and said she liked the cover, then proceeded to tell me that she’s a huge fan of Jodi Picoult. Yeah, okay, I hate this cover.

The Deal:

Now, before I tell you about this book, I have to address something. When you first read the description, you might instantly think of Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, which has a very similar beginning. Do yourself and Jennifer Castle a favor, and don’t compare them! They’re totally different types of stories, I promise. Just trust, bruv.

You know how, in Home Alone, Kevin wishes his entire family would disappear, and then it’s like totally awesome, at least for the first few days of sundaes and stair sledding? Well, I have the feeling that sixteen-year-old Laurel will never know the joy of Home Alone again, because her family really did disappear. On a night after dinner with their neighbors, the Kaufmans, Laurel heads home to finish homework, and her mom, dad and brother get in the car with Mr. Kaufman behind the wheel for an ice cream run. On the way, the car is involved in a tragic accident, killing everyone except for Mr. Kaufman, who lands in a coma. In an instant, Laurel’s whole life changes in a way that no one could understand–no one, that is, except David Kaufman, who also ditched his family that night and lost his mother in the accident. Unlike Laurel, whose grandmother immediately moves in, David has no one except his vegetable father, and he constantly disappears. In spite of his flickering presence, Laurel finds herself drawn to him as she struggles to figure out how exactly life goes on.

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay BFF Charm

Laurel is one tough cookie. She’s crippled with grief, and yet she continues to live and breathe and pursue her dreams–once she can figure out what they are. Sure, there’s days when she can’t make it out of bed, but she doesn’t play the victim card unless it means she can get out of taking notes in class. (Like you wouldn’t do the same!) She also isn’t a martyr; she’s just a regular girl who lost her family. And it sucks. And she deals. One of the things that made her so real to me was her drive to still be normal, to do ordinary teenage things like go to the prom and kiss a boy. It’s a natural reaction, and watching her adapt to everyday life was both heartbreaking and inspiring.

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Oh my stars, David Kaufman! You sure know how to set tragedy on fire with your hotness. Especially since you were kind of a jerk before the accident, what with your bad boy druggie ways and the fact that you totally ignored Laurel even though you played together as kids. But post-accident, SA-WOON. You’re tortured and lost and you aimlessly drive across the country and send Laurel cryptic post cards and you love your dog Masher and you are seriously TURNING ME ON. Plus, the fact that Laurel is trying to make it work with another guy just increases the romantic tension to almost unbearable levels.

Talky Talky: Dessen Disciple

I hate to sound like a quote on a book cover, but if you like Sarah Dessen, you’ll enjoy Jennifer Castle’s style of writing. It’s straight up and honest, and there’s plenty of swoon without the sugar. This is Jennifer’s first book, so she’s got room to improve, especially with some of the emotional depth. There were times when I felt like the punch-to-the-gut moments were hitting a little soft, and I was never overwhelmed by Laurel’s loss and subsequent grief. But, with that said, the story still felt compelling to me, and Laurel’s voice is definitely authentic.

Bonus Factor: Mysterious Loner Dude

Picture of Jordan Catalano, a hot brooding stoner, in My So-Called Life

As I’ve already spazzed about, David is a total mysterious loner dude. He’s emotionally distant and difficult to read, and with his recently acquired tragic past, he’s total Posh bait.

Bonus Factor: Cameron Quick

Cover of Sweethearts with a pink iced heart-shaped cookie with a bite taken out of it

I’m not putting David on the same pedestal as Cameron Quick (OBVS), but he’s definitely got some of his excellent qualities. He was Laurel’s main childhood friend until he decided to move on to the bad crowd, and they share those halcyon memories of crayons and make-believe. When he comes back into Laurel’s life, he’s enigmatic and carrying a ton of emotional baggage, which is totes the Cameron Quick formula for hotness.

Bonus Factor: Kickass Gram

Emily Gilmore from Gilmore Girls looking unimpressed

Laurel’s grandmother is totally a role model of old age for me, except she doesn’t drink enough. She’s strong and loving and gets her hair did twice a week and wears impeccable make-up and clothes and has a condo on the beach and loves the shizz out of her granddaughter and I ADORE HER. She’s a fighter, and when Laurel’s not strong enough to keep going, Gran picks her up and carries her forward. To be honest, it was her grief, not Laurel’s, that hit me the hardest. And when she said, after a particularly terrible day, “Let’s have wine with lunch!” I knew she was my kind of lady.

Bonus Factor: Loyal Pet

Golden retriever looking at camera while being hugged by a man

Mashers is the best dog! And spoiler alert: HE DOES NOT DIE.

Also, Laurel works for a vet clinic, so if you’re an animal lover, you will definitely go apeshizz over this book.

Relationship Status: Going Steady

I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty nervous about my first date with this book. I mean, it seemed like it was going to be a major buzz kill, and I wasn’t ready for anything super deep. But then it surprised me by being both emotionally mature AND totally hot! I’m really attracted to its characters and bittersweet charm, and even though it’s not as serious as it could be, I’m ok with that. After all, who wants to hang out with a depressed book all of the time? Hope is totally the new sexy.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a review copy from Harper Collins. I received neither money nor cocktails for this review.

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.