Published by Roaring Brook Press on September 20, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Source: print ARC from the publisher
When Caroline's little brother is kidnapped, his subsequent rescue leads to the discovery of Ethan, a teenager who has been living with the kidnapper since he was a young child himself. In the aftermath, Caroline can't help but wonder what Ethan knows about everything that happened to her brother, who is not readjusting well to life at home. And although Ethan is desperate for a friend, he can't see Caroline without experiencing a resurgence of traumatic memories. But after the media circus surrounding the kidnappings departs from their small Texas town, both Caroline and Ethan find that they need a friend--and their best option just might be each other.
Diversity Rating: 1 – Tokenism
Disability: 1 (Ethan has PTSD; Caroline’s brother Dylan is autistic, but the author cites poisonous org Autism Speaks)
Jennifer Mathieu can write some incredible novels. Both The Truth About Alice and Devoted occupy precious space on my bookshelf and the latter especially has stuck with me since I read it. Of course I was going to read Afterward! Sadly, I come away from the novel with mixed feelings and without the same kind of deep impression her previous works left. It’s still good, but it’s definitely not something I can recommend if you’re looking for good representation of autism for a number of reasons.
Both because I’m trying to shake off my blogging blues and because there isn’t much to say about the novel, I’ll keep things short.
Though I often forgot whether Ethan or Caroline was narrating and took much longer to read this short novel than I should have, it’s still a good book. Ethan’s PTSD and constant struggle as he blames himself for staying as well as his role in Dylan’s abduction are both written very well. The lack of romance in Afterward was a good choice, as the teens’ friendship is much stronger without it. They certainly give it a try at one point but smartly come to the conclusion that it’s a bad idea considering where they both are mentally.
Due to the author’s citation of Autism Speaks as a legitimate organization to learn about autism from and support, I can’t recommend Afterward for autism representation. Autistic people and their allies have been so critical of the organization that when you type their name into Google, it will suggest searching for “autism speaks controversy” and “autism speaks bad” almost immediately. Citing them suggests a lack of research or even apathy about how the organization harms the people it supposedly wants to help. Mathieu also thanks Cammie McGovern in the acknowledgements for help with writing Dylan. McGovern has been criticized herself for poor disability rep in her novels.
This post, though a few years old, does a good job of outlining why Autism Speaks should never be your source for information about and advocacy for autistic people. The Autism Self Advocacy Network is a much better choice if you’d prefer a group that doesn’t exclude autistic people from their board and actually assists autistic people instead of trying to cure them.
Well, that’s it. Not much more to say. If you haven’t read any of Mathieu’s novels before, Afterward is not a good place to start or you’ll get the wrong impression of books. Though all of her novels are similarly lacking in solid representation of marginalized identities, The Truth About Alice and Devoted are much more engaging. With this track record, I worry the author’s next novel Moxie will be just another example of white feminism in YA instead of true, intersectional feminism.