On a bucolic afternoon at an after-school Game Day, Grace looks at the school behind her and sees smoke. Her child has just run to get his cake from inside his classroom to celebrate his birthday. She races to the school and sees her son outside on the steps, but her 17-year-old daughter Jenny – working temporarily as school nurse – is nowhere to be seen. Setting aside any thoughts of her own safety, Grace rushes inside and drags her daughter from danger before collapsing. Both are severely injured, but Grace wakes, trapped in a hospital bed but able to move out of her body. She finds Jenny down the hall doing the same. Jenny has no remembrance of the fire, and Grace realizes how crucial it is for her to know the truth because something dark is still in the hospital with them. Grace and Jenny reconvene throughout the day, comparing notes and discussing Jenny’s condition: it’s not good. She needs a transplant, but it’s beginning to look as though she may not make it. Grace comforts out-of-body Jenny, and as they are dealing with this crisis, another comes along. Grace’s young son Adam is accused of starting the fire, and she is frantic and desperate in her attempts to piece together the oddities of the afternoon that changed their lives.
Nothing like a good ole out-of-body experience in a book, right?
Let me start off by saying that Afterwards is incredibly readable. I read it in two sittings, listening to Grace tell her husband (in her head) of her grief, her suspicion, and her fear, and watching as Grace moves about the hospital, observing her mother, husband, son, sister-in-law, and friends as they deal with the aftermath of the horrific fire that has critically injured both her and her daughter. It is evident that the fire was no accident, but the question is who began the fire and why? Was Jenny hurt intentionally? And who is the furtive dark figure that attempts to harm Jenny’s body in the hospital? Grace’s unusual perspective allows her and the reader a new understanding of the people in her life, such as the tough-as-nails sister-in-law who Grace has always been somewhat jealous of for the close relationship her husband has with the sister who raised him. As she watches, she’s touched by the way Sarah fights for Grace and her children while comforting Mike. She also watches as her husband visits her bedside with updates of their daughter, begging Grace to come back to him. She flits between these people she loves as well as those involved in the case.
Grace’s out-of-body experience is also very convenient for exploring a mystery, and Grace can even leave the hospital. It’s painful…but she can go along with Sarah (a police officer) as she interviews witnesses and collects evidence, and Grace builds up a case of her own, though it’s unclear what she’ll be able to do with this knowledge.
Afterwards is a mystery that also wants to be a Jodi Picoult novel. I’ve read a couple of Picoult novels, and the success of Picoult’s novels depends on an outpouring of emotion. Not knocking them, but this is what she does. You know, like when a mother saves her daughter from fire and both are unconscious and the daughter needs a transplant, but no one can supply her with one except the mother who is brain dead but not dying. Yeah. So if you were the kid reading all those sad books in middle school where teenage girls got cancer and died (Lurlene McDaniel) or if you love Jodi Picoult, this book is definitely for you.
Personally, I read the heck out of this book, but I was irritated for much of it. By placing Grace at the heart of this novel in the manner she does, Lupton overwhelms the reader with mother love goodness in this book. See? Grace ran into a burning building to save her daughter. Grace is out of body so she can be with her daughter who is also out of body. Grace investigates the crime to exonerate her son. Not that a mother wouldn’t try to save her daughter or prove her son is innocent, but the conceit Lupton uses with Grace’s condition takes it too far. Instead of feeling imaginative, it feels contrived because the only real purpose of Grace’s omniscient storytelling is for the reader; Lupton wants the reader in Grace’s mind because it’s more agonizing. Plus, the reader knows what Grace knows, which is more than any individual character in the novel does because they can’t be everywhere at once. But Grace is impotent to make any sort of change precisely because she is out of her body.
Sister, Lupton’s first novel, relies heavily on a conceit, but doesn’t feel contrived. Suspenseful and emotive with a definite twist, I recommended (and recommend) this to many. A nice trick in a novel once is interesting, particularly when it fits the story well, but when an author’s second novel also relies on something outlandish, I begin to get a little peeved, especially because Lupton is a good writer. However, I’d like to see a bit more true imagination and less Igottatotallysuspendmydisbelief-ness in her writing.
That said, plenty of people on the TLC Tour loved this book, and I’m going to give one of you a chance at my copy. You’ll probably love it. Remember, I’m the picky girl, so it’s probably just me. 🙂 How to win a copy of Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton? Leave a comment. Really, it’s that simple. Giveaway ends Friday, May 11, 2012 at midnight.
CONGRATS Twisty J of Twisting the Lens. You’ll get an email regarding your copy of Afterwards.