The complexities of a friendship. The unexplored doubts of a marriage. And the redemptive power of literature... Julie Buxbaum, the acclaimed author of The Opposite of Love, delivers a haunting, gloriously written novel about love, family, and the secrets we hide from each other--and ourselves.
It happened on a tree-lined street in Notting Hill to a woman who seemed to have the perfect life. Ellie Lerner’s best friend, Lucy, was murdered in front of her young daughter. And, as best friends do, Ellie dropped everything--her marriage, her job, her life in the Boston suburbs--to travel to London and pick up the pieces of Lucy’s life. While Lucy’s husband, Greg, copes with his grief by retreating into himself, eight-year-old Sophie has simply stopped speaking.
Desperate to help Sophie, Ellie turns to a book that gave her comfort as a child, The Secret Garden. As the two spend hours exploring the novel’s winding passageways, its story of hurt, magic, and healing blooms around them. But so, too, do Lucy’s secrets--some big, some small--secrets Lucy kept hidden, even from her best friend. Over a summer in London, as Ellie peels back the layers of her friend’s life, she’s forced to confront her own as well: the marriage she left behind, the loss she’d hoped to escape. And suddenly Ellie’s carefully constructed existence is spinning out of control in a chain of events that will transform her life--and those around her--forever. A novel that will resonate in the heart of anyone who’s had a best friend, a love lost, or a past full of regrets, After You proves once again the unique and compelling talent of Julie Buxbaum.
Julie Buxbaum on After You
After You may be aimed at adult readers, but oddly enough, it sprang from a lifelong obsession with a singular children’s classic: The Secret Garden. It seems to me that some kids’ books begin with “Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom” and some begin instead with a spoiled little girl orphaned by a cholera epidemic. I happen to like the latter kind. Frances Hodgson Burnett in her masterpiece, The Secret Garden, is not afraid of illness, or indifferent uncles, or even mean little girls. And yet, despite the darkness at its edges, her work manages to capture more magic and lightness than all of those other “once upon a time” and “they all lived happily ever after” books combined. Her characters’ happiness is always hard-fought, and well-earned, and best of all, she introduces us to places and people who feel real--the at once menacing and alive moors of England, the country’s spectacular gardens, a young girl feeling alone and lost in the world in the wake of tragedy.
But I realize I am supposed to only talk about my second novel, After You, here. And yet, I can’t seem to talk about After You without first paying tribute to Frances Hodgson Burnett, because After You is, among many other things, a love letter to The Secret Garden. In After You, when Ellie, my main character, discovers her best friend Lucy has unexpectedly died, she drops her own life in the Boston suburbs to move to London to help take care of Lucy’s eight-year-old daughter. Overwhelmed by little Sophie’s grief, Ellie turns to the children’s classic for comfort, an opportunity for them to escape the real world at a time when they need to most. Together, Ellie and Sophie get lost in Burnett’s magical language, and allow themselves the pleasure and the relief (and yes, the therapy too) that only reading can sometimes bring.
And so like The Secret Garden, After You, doesn’t begin with “Once upon a time,” and nor does it end with “happily ever after.” Yet, like the Burnett classic, it is at heart a happy book, one where we get to watch loves lost and gained, see our deepest selves discovered, experience the power of redemption, and understand the magic that can be found in turning the pages forward. To be honest, sometimes, I don’t feel like spending my afternoon in a faraway kingdom; I’d much rather rediscover the simple pleasure of reading in the garden. --Julie Buxbaum
(Photo © Indy Flore)
From Publishers Weekly
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