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.
***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group
Afterward is a dual POV story set in the months after two abducted boys were rescued from their captor’s home. Told from the perspectives of Ethan, a boy who was held and abused for FOUR years, and Caroline, the sister of the young autistic boy who was nabbed by Ethan’s predator. This story is about recovery and learning to work through the trauma in a healthy way. Getting back to normal after being kidnapped seems impossible and when everyone treats you like you’re fragile and will disappear again at any moment, it’s a Herculean weight on your shoulders. Caroline struggles to understand what he brother went through when, because of his autism, he cannot communicate what happened to him, he just has severe nightmares and PTSD. Jennifer Mathieu, skillfully, and respectfully shows both sides of the spectrum, the family that is working so hard to help and understand and the victim’s road to being okay again.
The story starts with the immediate flash to when her brother was taken. The energy, that crumbling sense of fear as her stomach dropped out when she couldn’t find him. The terror, the anguish, the way she blamed herself were intense and gutting. That scene was a gripping introduction. After that, things slow down, they ease up, and while there are flashbacks for Ethan that are particularly disturbing and haunting, nothing much happens. It drags, you might feel compelled to skim, and get a little bored. It reads a bit like a contemporary, coming of age story in that lethargic, floating way.
What works is that the story is intensely realistic. The ups and downs, the angst, the general family issues, the class struggles, things like that were all spot on.
What I didn’t like was how little story actually had to do with Caroline’s brother, Dylan. There are barely any scenes with him and while you do sympathize with Caroline’s heartbreaking quest to understand what her brother went through, I think the focus was skewed.
There aren’t really any secondary characters and the ones that are there flit in and out and aren’t particularly likable, with the exception of Ethan’s therapist and the dog.
Ethan’s POV was strong and powerful. He grows and fights to sort through the reasons why he was taken, what he went through, the repressed memories, and all that trauma and clings to normalcy. He just wants to be a teenage boy and yet, he has so much mentally weighing on him that when he gets the opportunity it’s a whole different issue. It’s complex and intense and his thoughts will make you want to read more.
Caroline was an okay character. She’s a little random, a misfit, she does questionable, rebellious things, but that’s who she is. As the story progresses, she gets a teeny bit more likable, but it’s how she changes Ethan that makes her better.
Overall, Afterward wasn’t what I expected and left me feeling letdown. There were parts that were missing answers and things that still hadn’t been worked through by the end. I didn’t really get the need for so much Caroline. I would have liked to have seen more of her relationship with Dylan.
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