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on April 14, 2011
What Comes After is truly a gift. Though I won it for free through GoodReads First-Reads, and though, by necessity I am a penny pincher, this is worth whatever price the author and publishers decide.

Steve Watkins wrote this with such skill that it grabbed me by heart and soul, right from the start. The story and characters are well developed over the course of the novel.

I had to keep looking at the cover to see who wrote this. It is very seldom that a male author can capture female thoughts and actions. Iris is no femme-fatale, helplessly waiting for the white knight. She is a strong girl with a mind of her own, and a heart that wishes only for the good. Unfortunately, life keeps throwing trucks full of lemons at her.

I am so sorry that the story came to an end. There is so much more I wanted to see Iris solve. Maybe there is a part two? It does come to a natural ending, it doesn't just leave you at a cliff. But, well, I think as a mother, I grew to love her and wasn't ready for her to leave my nest.

What a pleasant surprise to find in the acknowledgements at the end of the book that the author is a fellow UU (Unitarian Universalist)! The Universal love is expressed through Iris and her actions of non-biased love. Kudos!

Now I will have to find other works by Mr. Watkins. What a story-teller!

I may read this again as I am curious, as a budding writer, how Steve pulled me through without my feeling it. That is talent!

After I wrote my review (above) for GoodReads I quickly came over here and bought the Kindle edition. It is that good!
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on October 5, 2011
Iris Wight's life is like a train wreck-- horrible, terribly depressing and so gripping the reader truly can't look away. Iris's strength is what makes this novel amazing and emotional. There were too many times when I wished I could pluck her out of the story and make her feel better. The ending and her growth is stasifying and realistic.

The law in Iris's life is that anything bad that can happen will happen. For most of the novel, Iris is rejoicing in the very small things in life because that's all she has. Literally, she doesn't have much besides the clothes off her back and a half empty stomach. Her plight is heartbreaking. One of my biggest worries was a male writer taking on the emotional state of a teenage girl but Mr. Watkins does this effortlessly and with a brutual honesty to match some of the best female writers. He knows what he's doing.

Both Sue and Book Allen are well thought out for being the "bad guys" and play their parts with equally parts glee and sorrow. They felt real and weren't all bad which is something that takes a lot of rounding out. The thing is, you could see both points of view and though they took it too far, they stayed true to their characters. I did feel that Iris's friend Beatrice fell flat compared to the other well-rounded characters. Her dialog seemed a bit forced and she fell into a non-realistic stereotype too often for my tastes.

Mr. Watkins writing is beautiful and very honest. Iris's voice comes easily and she's in such a dire situation that it's hard not to love her. I did find that at some points the story dragged a little and by the middle I wanted more action and to see the story progress. I guess I was hoping to get to the really bad parts quicker so that I could see the good parts. I would have also liked to see a bit more of her friend Littleberry so I could feel more of a connection to him. Iris needed more good people in her life!

What Comes After is truly a tale of growing in the worst possible conditions and learning to adapt in order to survive. Through everything Iris remains true to herself, no matter how hard or what the consciences. What Comes After is definitely worth the read but it's not for the faint of heart. Gripping, emotional and beautiful, it tells the story of a modern day heroine that learns to survive on her own.
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on August 10, 2011
Steve has out done himself with the story of Iris, a 16 year old orphan who is sent to live with her maternal Aunt Sue from hell. How many foster kids are out there trying to survive and being knocked down at every turn by lawyers who OK outrageous purchases by Aunt Sues with Iris's inheritence in the name of providing a "quality of life". How many are bullied because of their accent, the clothes they wear, the food they eat? Steve tells the tale of Iris, who evenually, if reluctantly, learns to trust a few who in turn help her to escape her hell. How many kids never find that trusted friend and never escape? Steve tells the tale in a way I didn't want to put the book down!
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on October 15, 2011
Wow. Wow. Wow. Read What Comes After one rainy Saturday afternoon. Could not put it down. What an inspiring story! One that speaks to anyone who has had to overcome adversity and learn the importance of balancing suffering with joy, pain with humor, love and empathy - as the main character Iris intuitively seems to understand. I was so moved. I laughed and cried, and laughed and cheered. Iris is such an intrepid character, and her love for animals so beautiful to witness. All of the background details of the farm are fascinating. The whole story flowed so perfectly. Now, I can't wait for what comes after, What Comes After!
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on July 21, 2011
Why I read this: I really thought this one sounded good, despite it not being my favorite genre and decided to give it a try.

Plot: This book is a mix of emotions. Iris goes through a lot, she loses her dad, the friend she was staying with forces her to leave because her parents were fighting, and then she has to deal with an abrasive aunt who turns out to be more abusive than Iris first thought. I have to say, the way she coped was very realistic, she turned to what she knew she loved - animals, and used them to keep going.

Characters: I can't imagine being in her shoes, but I feel like Iris was a very realistic character. The way she reacted to things really pulled her character together and made her so concrete. I thought the villain of the story - Aunt Sue - is probably one of the most realistic villians I've encountered as well. She's not over the top violent, but she takes deep offense when Iris does anything against her and she finds a way to make her miserable. Aunt Sue abuses Iris physically and mentally and you hate her for it, but you get this glimpse of how sorry a life she's lived behind all that anger.

Relatability: It's hard not to relate to one of the many themes in the book - moving away, trying to fit in, abuse, loss of a parent, and the love of animals.

Cover Commentary: Very pretty.
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on October 10, 2011
I found this book hard to put down...it was that good. I liked Iris, I liked the animals, I loved to hate Aunt Sue (while, yes, having some empathy for her dismal life). Iris' dad: what did he die of? Her mom?: more details on her would've been nice. The pivotal beating? Didn't need to be graphic, but it was a little under-described, I'd say. However, all this aside, I loved WHAT COMES AFTER. Iris' voice is so realistic, I agree with an earlier reviewer who said it is hard to believe it's not written by a woman! I definitely recommend this and also agree with the reviewer who commented on the cover art--lovely.
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on January 27, 2013
A great book about letting the most unlikely helpers in the world -- a group of goats -- help a lost teenager overcome her problems. I grew up on a farm, we had some goats, and they were fun animals to have around. They were always glad to see you, and they would do a lot of goofy things. It was easy to picture the scenes from this story, with the goats taking on almost human characteristics.
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on May 15, 2011
WHAT COMES AFTER is a powerful and heartwrenching YA contemporary read. Watkins slips effortlessly into Iris' voice and gives us a gorgeously told story about both the extreme cruelty and the endurance of human nature.

Iris Wight's idyllic life in Maine ends when her veterinarian father dies and she is sent to live with the aunt and cousin she's hardly met, on their farm in North Carolina. Iris immediately does not get along with Aunt Sue or Book Allen, on account of their cruelty towards both her and their farm animals. As Iris gets closer to the farm animals, she is determined to save them from Aunt Sue's cruelty. But saving them may mean getting hurt herself, and Iris is not sure who is willing to save her.

It's hard to believe that this book was written by a man, because Iris' voice is so convincing. She is a bit on the quiet side, due to the upheavals she's had to endure, but she is far from weak: from the start, I admired how Iris respected her aunt yet did not let Sue trod all over her. This is a girl who has the capacity to love deeply, whose capacity to do so is tested by her circumstances. WHAT COMES AFTER was a gorgeous read primarily because of how believable Iris is.

It's easy to caricaturize villains, but Aunt Sue, Book, and other troubled characters in the book are well-rounded; we can believe that these people could exist in real life, even if we may not understand or agree with their attitudes or decisions. Watkins also knows his way around a farm: his depiction of the goats will tug at even a non-animal lover's heart, and I empathized with them as much as I would with a human character.

Overall, WHAT COMES AFTER is arguably one of the strongest contemporary reads I've had the pleasure of discovering this year so far. It's a shame that this book hasn't gotten much notice so far, but I'm hoping that, with the endorsement of well-respected authors such as Francisco X. Stork (Marcelo in the Real World), this book will find its way into more readers' hands.
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on April 15, 2011
Iris Wight doesn't remember much about her mother, she left when Iris was five years old and never returned. Now Iris is sixteen and she has just buried her father. The friends who promised her father they would care for her are having marital issues and can no longer keep their promise. She is forced to leave Maine and move to a farm in North Carolina to live with her Aunt Sue who she met once 14 years earlier. It soon becomes clear that the only reason her aunt agreed to take her was the money in her father's estate. Her life is lonely and difficult and the only comfort she finds is in the animals on the farm. But when Aunt Sue decides to slaughter her favorite goats Iris rebels and tries to save them. This results in an assault that lands Iris in the hospital and Aunt Sue and her son in jail. Iris is moved to a foster home and has to leave her beloved animals behind. Watkins has produced a touching novel about a strong, determined young woman who has been abandoned by those she loves for most of her life. Her response is to withdraw and try to do things on her own. But as the book progresses she realizes that she cannot accomplish her goal of keeping the animals safe all alone. She slowly opens up to the people around her, and even develops a relationship with a classmate who is dealing with his own loss.

This is one of the most heartbreaking novels I have read in a long time. This is not an action packed read, but rather a character driven story that was a delight to read. The main character, Iris, is a real teen who has had more hardship than should be allowed but her strength and determination shine through to allow her to remain strong and likable. She has abandonment woven into her life. It started with her mother leaving, continued with her father's sudden death and was seen in her friend's inability to keep their promise. When she is faced with the dilemma of having to leave her beloved animals when she was placed in foster care she could not abandon them as others have done to her, no matter what the cost.

The secondary characters are just as memorable. From the Buddha looking school counselor who preferred to sit on the floor instead of behind a desk to the quirky, ferret loving foster parents, I was drawn to each one and would be glad to have people like them in my life. Watkins even made the animals within the novel come to life, each one with a unique personality, making me feel just as invested in their safety as Iris was.

The violence Iris experienced at the hands of Aunt Sue and her son was shocking and as a mother I wanted to jump in and give her she the comfort she desperately needed. When they were put in jail for their actions the school bullies stepped in and continued to harass Iris. How she dealt with these issues was remarkable, making her a memorable character.

On the surface this could be seen as a simple story about a girl who loves animals and tries to do what is right for them. But it is so much more. It is a wonderful tale about loss, grief and triumph over adversity. It teaches us that while everyone faces challenges in life, it is the way we decide to deal with them that dictates who we will become.
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on June 4, 2011
After reading this novel, the first thought through my mind was how unusual it was to have a book about a female character that focused more on her growth as a character rather than a romance. Did I mind it? Absolutely not! It was a refreshing change of scenery. Scenery that included one incredibly written main character... and animals. Yes, animals! Do I have your attention yet, fellow animal lovers?

Iris is one of those characters that you cannot help but love. Her best character is that she is human. She's relatable in the way that she's kind and very caring, yet she still has flaws - she takes falls and she struggles. Yet every time she falls, she has the resilience to get back up, dust herself off and move on. I love her for that. Her foster parents added some nice quirk to the novel while her aunt Sue and cousin Book... well, what they added I wouldn't exactly call 'quirk'. I sometimes felt a little for Book, but there was never a good excuse for what he and his aunt put Iris (and the animals) through.

This book is heavy - and I'm not talking about it's physical weight. If you're looking for a light-hearted book to read and feel good afterward, I would look the other way. This book is emotionally devastating and tugs at your heartstrings like no other. Don't get me wrong, it's a GREAT book! Just be prepared to cry... a lot.
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