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The Beginning of After Hardcover – September 6, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"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:

  • "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

What would you like people to take away from the experience of reading "The Beginning of After"?

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen (September 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061985791
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061985799
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,339,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jennifer Castle's first novel, "The Beginning of After," was named an American Library Association Best Fiction for Young Adults selection and a Chicago Public Library "Best of the Best" Book. Her second novel, "You Look Different in Real Life," was published in June 2013, along with the companion digital novella "Playing Keira." She wrote many unproduced movie and TV scripts before returning to her first love, fiction . . . but she's still hooked on film and the way we can find and tell our stories with images. She lives with her family in New York's Hudson Valley.

You can visit her online at

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gail Hodges on April 7, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I couldn't put it down. This book is so touching and the author writes with so much emotion. It was a book that I will never forget. This is Jennifer Castles first novel and she wrote with such feeling about grief and the stages you go through. Laurel, the main character, is so moving in her walk to learn how to live after losing her family in an accident. She came to life in the pages of this book. Thanks to the author for writing such a wonderful, beautiful story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Janet Morris on October 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This was a pretty good book. That being said, there was nothing truly remarkable about it. Yes, it made me cry, but given the subject matter, that was sort of a given. If it hadn't made me cry, I probably would have worried.

It isn't bad or poorly written. It's very easy to read, so the problem isn't that it's hard to follow. It's also pretty realistic. The problem is that in order for me to think of a book as being truly great, it needs to grab me. It needs to make something deep in me shift in some way. This didn't. It had nothing truly extraordinary about it.

I wanted to love it. I really did, but it just wasn't that great. To me, when a book doesn't really inspire you in some way or leave you feeling like something about your world has been changed, then I end up feeling like I've wasted my time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ashley Evans on August 2, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
The Beginning of After started out pretty strong for me. I immediately liked Laurel's character. She had a fun personality and a unique voice. But as the book went on, I realized that things I expected to happen would never happen, and the book fizzled out as a result.

As expected, The Beginning of After is freaking devastating. A teenager loses her entire family in one, single, freak accident. This was one of those things that I could not stop thinking about. It's so sad and it makes you think about all the "what if's".

One of my favourite parts of The Beginning of After had to do with animals. Laurel gets involved at a veterinary office and I loved reading about the animals! And even better, she starts taking care of David's dog and the dog is what helps bridge the gap between Laurel and David. When the dog was with David, Laurel would write letters to David but since she was too shy or nervous to talk to David directly, she'd actually write the letters to the dog. Then when the dog was staying with Laurel, vice versa. It was soooo cute!!

But as I said, this book certainly wasn't perfect, and as it went on, more things started to bother me.

I think the biggest problem with The Beginning of After was Laurel and David's relationship. I kept expecting something to happen there but nothing ever did. The synopsis doesn't lie when it says, "David [..] swoops in and out of Laurel's life." It was a bit like whiplash. One minute David is there, he and Laurel kiss, there's something clearly between them, then he disappears for weeks or even months. Then he comes back and it happens all over again. It was like he'd show up out of nowhere, throw her a bone, then disappear, then come back and throw her another bone.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Haley Osborne on May 19, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
The Beginning of After was truly it's title. After a horrible thing happens and it affects your family or friends, you have to start over again. I know, I've been there my share of times. This book perfectly navigated one girls' journey after her mother, father and brother were killed in a car accident.

One of the most important things this book taught me was how to be sad, how to grieve, which I think everyone needs to know how to do. If you don't grieve, you will never be able to get past something that has happened. But also, after grieving, you have to begin to grow from it. Laurel taught me that it is perfectly okay to feel bad for yourself when something awful happens. But she also taught me the importance of getting back up on your feet and persevering through life once again. Life is full of ups and downs, no matter how much we wish the downside's of life ceased to exist

I think the story line was brilliant. Bad boy neighbors-dad, Mr. Kaufman, is responsible for the deaths of her family. He is comatose, but the only survivor of that night. I sympathized with Laurel as she began to come to terms with what has happened. She didn't know who to blame, herself for not saving the day, or Mr. Kaufman. David, his son, is also dealing with this car accident as his father is in critical condition. It was nice to see that Laurel didn't automatically shun him, whilst she didn't exactly invite him over for dinner as well. It took time for their relationship to grow, and I appreciated that! Not very fond of insta-loves!

On a happier note, I adore this cover! The actor perfectly resembles what I would have thought Laurel would have looked like. Plus, just the colors and design are gorgeous!

If you're looking for a deeper, emotional contemporary read focused on moving forward in life, this book is for you!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By surfergirl on June 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Sixteen-year-old Laurel Meisner's life is about to turn on its head. After the death of her entire family in a car accident, Laurel tries to pretend it's life as usual. She aces her SATs, gets asked to prom and tucks her grief deep down where it can't touch her. On the surface, Laurel seems fine, but the cracks in her composure are deepening with every day, with every breath. Each time her grief threatens to surface, she shoves it away, "pain go away." And it does, only to resurface twice as fast and twice as violently the next time.

Gorgeously written and insightful, The Beginning of After (Harper Teen) is a novel that will access your deepest emotions, even if you've never experienced loss. It will take you on a journey of healing that is as heartbreaking as it is beautiful. Laurel's process of dealing with her grief is mainly one of trial and error, but what the author does brilliantly is to juxtapose Laurel's process with that of her childhood friend David--who loses his mother in the same accident--and whose process is the exact opposite of Laurel's. He runs, while she stays. His life is broken on the outside. Hers is broken on the inside. Still, the two of them manage to come together despite the traumatic event that should only have driven them apart, and learn how to finally forgive and let go of the past.

In The Beginning of After, be prepared to laugh out loud, to rage, to cry, and everything else in between. An intense and honest portrayal of teen life after trauma, this is a contemporary novel that won't let you go once you've turned the first page.

See this review and check out my interview with Jennifer Castle in TheLoop, a local Westchester periodical. [...]
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