"This first novel takes some of its emotional cues from Gayle Forman's breakout novel IF I STAY (2009) and will be well received by Sarah Dessen fans...Laurel's grieving process is believable and will resonate with all who have lost someone they love." --Booklist
"A difficult story well told, Jennifer Castle's debut novel opens a window onto the process of loss, transition and recovery...The touching, insightful story of a young woman struggling to put her life back together after a terrible tragedy." --Shelf Awareness
"It is fascinating to watch these two young people try to make sense of their losses and struggle to figure out how to move on...the journey offers a complex look at the aftermath of a tragedy." --VOYA (Voices of Youth Advocates)
"...the detailed writing and smart, realistically cool characters will be appealing to many girls...Offer this to teens who are waiting for the next Sarah Dessen book." --School Library Journal
“Castle expertly guides the narrative through the various stages of grief, refusing to shrink away from even the most difficult areas, where life and death collide. An honest look at grief that is both achingly real and powerfully hopeful.” (Kirkus Reviews)
From the Author
Questions I'm Frequently Asked About "The Beginning of After":
What, or who, inspired you to write "The Beginning of After"?
I'm happy to say I've never experienced a trauma like the one Laurel does in this book. But I've always been a little obsessed with the idea of "the survivor." You lived while others died. So what do you do with that? How does it color the rest of your life? That's just super-interesting to me. Then, years ago, I met a young woman who had lost most of her family in a terrible accident and was devoting her time to volunteer work. I didn't know her well, but I couldn't stop thinking about her story. This was also shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when everyone I knew was sharing this collective grief, trying to find our paths in a reshaped world. So that combination sparked a story idea for me, about a teenage girl who survives one of the worst imaginable traumas -- the loss of her family -- and how she's now permanently connected to the other "survivor" of the tragedy, her neighbor and former childhood friend.
As the book slowly evolved, it became about other things too. Like how Laurel's grief can never be totally her own; living in a small community and being in high school, she has to get through this trauma with all eyes on her. And how we can create our own families, out of the people around us, when we need to. The cool thing about working on a book for a long time is that you come across a lot of different points of inspiration along the way, and the story grows with your experience.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
I did a lot of reading about how teens grieve, and also about "survivor guilt." I read a few memoirs by young people who have experienced tragedy on this scale. I picked the brain of a therapist friend who works with people overcoming trauma. I didn't go crazy -- I think there's such a thing as too much research. Beyond that, I just made sure I knew my characters as well as I could, and that I knew how to be true to them in the different ways they cope. When a reader who has dealt with grief as a teen tells me they love the book, that I got it just right, it truly means the world to me.
Did you have a "music playlist" while you were writing "The Beginning of After"?
I did build up a long playlist after all the years I spent working on this book. I don't listen to music while I'm actually writing, but I often take "brainstorming walks" with my iPod that will help me think through a problem or just get me in the right frame of mind to work when I get home. Here are some of my favorites:
What would you like people to take away from the experience of reading "The Beginning of After"?
- "World Spins Madly On" by the Weepies (in my mind, this is the music for the book trailer...even though we never made one!)
- "Cosmic Love" by Florence + The Machine
- "Such Great Heights" by Iron and Wine
- "Breathe Me" by Sia
- "Darklands" by The Jesus and Mary Chain
- "Soul Meets Body" by Death Cab for Cutie
- "The Ghost In You" by The Psychedelic Furs
- "The Scientist" by Coldplay
- "Hometown Glory" by Adele
- "Everything To Me" by Liz Phair
I would love for readers to be able to draw some hope and strength from this book -- whatever kind they need. It may seem overdramatic to write about a girl who loses her entire family at once. But in a way, that's just an extreme metaphor for any type of game-changing event that can happen to us in life -- the ones that draw a line between "before" and "after." Maybe that's a divorce, or a personal injury, or a changed relationship, or a move to another state. Whatever it is and however "truly crappy" it seems, I believe we can survive it. Maybe we can't see it right away, but it might open up fresh opportunities and bring new and surprising people to us.Are you working on another book?
My next book, entitled "You Look Different In Real Life," will be published by HarperTeen on June 4, 2013; a companion digital-original short story, "Playing Keira," will be available for e-readers from HarperTeen Impulse on May 7, 2013. I'm currently working on my third novel, eating lots of dark chocolate, and trying unsuccessfully to switch from black tea to herbal.