I don’t yet have Jennifer Mathieu’s name committed to my memory, so imagine my surprise when I finished my newest download from Netgalley called Afterward and posted my review on Goodreads only to realize I’ve read two others from her! So now, I must commit her name to memory as she’s turned out some lovely and touching stories. In finishing Afterward, I can say that the lasting feeling I have is akin to Oribiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt. It’s this quiet recognition of a well-written story that sticks in your bones.
As Mathieu mentions in her afterword, this story doesn’t happen in real life very often, but it does happen and it’s worth writing about, especially when memorable characters are created and the the story unfolds as an homage to the courage it takes to survive but also to the self-care needed to move past difficult situations as Ethan and Caroline’s story attests to.
Memorable Character: Ethan without a doubt, as a boy who was taken as a pre-teen by a man who abused him and controlled him for years, is now back in the arms of his parents who tried to never give up hope that they’d find him again. He takes to meeting with a psychiatrist who provides him an avenue to explore what happened to him that includes bringing his his dog and also allowing Ethan to ask the tough questions: is he gay because he had to do that with Marty? Should he tell Dylan’s sister, Caroline, that he feels responsible for Dylan being kidnapped as well because he opened the door and “played the part”? How can he move on and go back to school? How much smothering should he take from his mother? There’s is a slow character development that endears readers to him from the very moment we learn who he is, that he has suffered abuse from a man who committed suicide when the cops finally found Ethan and Dylan. He’s open to a friendship with Dylan’s sister, who is trying to come to terms with Dylan’s kidnapping as well and befriends Ethan under the shared hobby of music. He wants everyone to feel comfortable, even when he was ripped away from his family for years before finally being rescued.
Memorable Scene: Each scene in the garage when Caroline rides up on her bike and starts a conversation with Ethan and subsequently meets him to “jam out”. It’s such an innocent way to begin their friendship. Caroline is curious about Ethan’s experiences and how she can use him to help her autistic brother deal with it as well. The alternating narratives help understand both Ethan and Caroline’s motivations creating a unique story.
Advised to give this to fans of Gary Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter and Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and Other Black Holes.