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The Beginning of After Hardcover – September 6, 2011
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"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
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 headphones 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 "What Happens Now," will be published by HarperTeen on June 7, 2016. It's a summer romance about learning to love, learning to heal, and what happens when fantasy meets reality. There's lots of kissing and cosplay. I'm currently working on a companion novel/sequel to this.
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Laurel's parents and brother are killed in a car accident that also takes the life of neighbor David's mother while his father lies in a coma. She spends the following year adjusting to her "new normal", THE BEGINNING OF AFTER.
Told from Laurel's first person POV, I could hardly believe a story with such tragedy left me feeling nothing. Maybe I had trouble connecting to emotion because Jennifer Castle used more telling than showing, but I never felt Laurel's pain. She was a likable enough character, easy to root for understandably as she imperfectly navigated her adjustment and grief. David was a far more interesting character, but we didn't get much insight into who we really was. THE BEGINNING OF AFTER may have been more intriguing told from both POVs.
I kept waiting for something to happen, something to make the plot interesting, something to feel. Anything. The only somewhat interesting occurrence happened toward the end of the book and wasn't fleshed out.
THEMES: death, grief, family, friends
I can't think of a reason to recommend THE BEGINNING OF AFTER. Even though it's not an awful book, there's nothing specifically good about it.
I was captivated from the first chapter, to see through the main characters eyes was something I have rarely seen. I really could connect with the main character; I felt what she felt. And even though she handled some of these things differently than a person might normally handle them, they were truer than anything else. I loved the storyline, I loved to see the five stages of grief, she be brought to a world where there aren't always rainbows and puppies but real life situations. And though I felt a light mood throughout this book I really concluded that it was all an illusion. There wasn't a single part where she was truly relieved and by the end of the book it was still that way but getting better. How everything ended was perfect; not every story has a happily ever after.
Laurel thought she had it all; she had a fantastic best friend, she loved her parents and little brother Toby and she was doing great in school. But all of that changed when she opened the door to the police who in turned told her of an accident. The accident that she would have been in if she hadn't left early to finish her french homework.
Guilt and depressed over losing her entire immediate family instantly her grandmother comes to stay with her; being there for Laurel in both of their times of need. And David the son of the guy who was driving the car that killed her entire family and Davids mom is causing havoc in Laurels life. She wants to blame David's father but with an undetermined cause she can't put it all on him.
Confused on where her life is going, Laurel is overcome with grief, everything reminds her of them, she can't escape her memories but there is only one person she can connect with. The one person who is going through almost the same thing she is; David. Can they both come to terms with the chaos that has become their life? Or will the both become consumed by their grief?
I loved this book, I loved that Laurel was a unique character; she was her own person. The mere fact she wrote to the dog of David instead of David himself really showed us how she was coping. I enjoyed seeing all the stages Laurel was going through. To be able to see her come to terms with losing a family and to be brought into conflicts that branched off from that was wonderful. This book was definately a tear-jerker for me. It's very easily relatable because most everyone has lost someone close to them and to compare Laurel's way of grieving to yours is something magical in itself. One thing is for sure about this book, it has become a story I will cherish to my heart. Castle is one talented writer and I'll be on the look out for future publications.