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I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own. Any quotes I use are from an unpublished copy and may not reflect the finished product.
The Afterwards was super disturbing, and definitely not a book I want my children to read. First of all, their names were a little confusing (December and Happiness/Ember and Ness), but that was easy to overlook. I can appreciate when an author tries to be unique and original with words. However, I wish the characters had mentioned why they were given those names.
I didn't get very far into this one, so I can't comment on the book as whole, but I disliked how the characters were portrayed at the start. Her friend dies, and she receives the news from the principal at her school. I thought the information was delivered in strange way, with all the kids sitting on the floor in front of him. Wouldn't you assemble a large group of children in a gym or auditorium? It also felt impersonal and careless, even though the characters were emotional.
After the death of her friend, Ember is approached by an uncle that she doesn't see very often, and he tells her that she's supposed to come with him because her father is busy with his girlfriend. Red flag! Red flag! Ember knew this was an odd request, because her father always tells her when his plans change, so she should have asked to go back inside the school and call him. She should not have left with him just because they were related.
Her uncle was super shady about the details, and very vague when she asked him questions, yet she was willing to follow him in circles despite knowing it wasn't the way to her house. Also, what he did was unforgiveable. She should have said something to someone when it was over, but she chooses not to so she can question him on her own. The guy essentially kidnaps her, and she doesn't tell her father? She didn't have to tell him the unbelievable aspects of what happened to her (her visit to the afterlife or whatever), but she could have told him that her uncle picked her up from school and abandoned her somewhere unfamiliar.
If your child has lost a friend or loved one, please keep them away from this book. The Afterwards will likely terrify them, and make them worry about their own deaths. When Ember finds her friend in the gray place (for lack of a better term), she was alone, confused, and scared. I don't want my children to worry about what's going to happen to them when they die (not at this age), and to even consider the possibility of it looking anything like what's described in this book.
Oh, and there's a talking cat that wasn't explained. Shouldn't she have been more concerned with that? Ember also knows she isn't dead, but she's in a dead place, and she actually wants to stay. Kudos for friendship, but she's also a child and should have been more afraid. Why doesn't she want to live? I'm seriously having a hard time wrapping my head around this one, and cannot think of a single positive aspect to end this review with.
I'm a former bookseller and while I read a lot of kid's books, I don't write a lot of reviews. And I wasn't going to write one for this book either, but I worried that, based on the other reviews, someone might pass this by. It's an amazing, respectful story for kids (and adults)- well written and beautifully illustrated. Dark? Sure. It's being recommended for fans of Gaiman and Dahl so...uh...dark. The great thing about those two writers is that they don't sugar-coat big ideas for little people. That's why kids like them. That's why kids appreciate them. I wouldn't recommend giving to this someone who has recently experienced the death of a loved one. There are plenty of other books for that. Shelves full. But I would recommend reading this *with* your kid. Possibly even spending two hours reading it on your own beforehand, if you're unsure. Because it's that important of a story. And those dark bits? Great opportunities to talk to your kids about what people do when they're desperate with grief.
The Afterwards, by A.F. Harrold, is a wonderfully creative story about how a 10-year-old might deal with grief. The main character, December, affectionately known as ’Ember, lives with her widowed father and next door to her best friend, Happiness (affectionally known as ’Ness). Within the first few chapters, Ness dies.
Ember was very young when her mother died, so this is her first experience actually dealing with grief. Her father comforted her and stayed with her while she took a day off school to grieve, but the next day she was sent back to school again, unprepared. She went through the motions of school, but the difficult part was once the school day ended.
Ember and Ness had always walked home from school together, so without Ness there, Ember felt alone. Her Uncle Graham picked her up from school and brought her to his house for snacks. After the snacks, Uncle Graham took her on a walk. Something seemed suspicious, though. They turned left, then left again, then left twice more. They ended up back at the same place, the garden in Uncle Graham’s backyard. But this time the backyard wasn’t full of colorful flowers, it was all black and white.
December was now in the afterworld. Her adventure is about what she finds in the place where people have died, and her determination to bring her friend back to the living world.
The creativity lies not only in the story, but in the book’s layout and pictures. In one scene, A.F. Harrold describes a curvy path, and writes the words in a curvy pattern on the page. In another, the words are written in a spiral, to show the way December is reading them.
When December enters the afterworld, the illustrations become dark and grey, to show us that she has entered another dimension. When December hears a crack, the page has a large crack behind the words. When she feels burning, the chapter numbers look like they’re on fire. Throughout the book, there are darling illustrations of Happiness, December, her family, and the animals she meets along the way.
This precious story is an endearing way to show how a child might try to process grief of her friend – by trying to find her friend and bring her back to life. Eventually December learns to accept life the way it is, and learns to move on, but it takes time. Everyone deals with death in their own way, and especially children. I highly recommend this book for any child dealing with grief, so they can use their imagination to picture the afterlife, and then eventually learn to process and accept their feelings.
A tragic story that everyone needs at some point in their life. Watching December try to figure out life after the loss of her other half was heartbreaking, but, I believe, a necessary lesson for the middle-grade audience.
The imagery was lovely, where the language was simple (perhaps too simple) when moving the reader between the living world and the afterwards. A wonderful blend for much younger readers who are not quite out of elementary school, but not quite squarely in the realm of middle-grade.
Perhaps the only reason I would not suggest The Afterwards is that an adult leads December to find the afterwards. She is led there, quite literally by the hand, which removes her agency and desire to find her friend after her sudden death. I understand the need for some adult interaction but wish that we’d been left to suffer ever so slightly more to just attempt to get to the emotion of the piece before we got to the fantasy of it.
This was a very dark story of how a girl deals with the death of her friend. I saw it as too dark for many kids (even advanced readers) with the uncle trading his living niece for a dead dog and then the mother trying to hold on to her and keep her in the “afterwards”. It was well written, just a little too much.
My 10yo and 7yo agree this is one of the very best books we have ever read. Somehow combines genuine fun and enjoyment with a very gentle look at profound ideas. The writing is *ludicrously* good too - after reading the nightly chapter to my children I would often go back and re-read because it was just too rich and glorious to read only once. A masterpiece, deserves to win everything going.