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BOOK REVIEW: The Afterwards by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett

| 17 February 2019 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Afterwards by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett

Bloomsbury Children’s Books
November 2018
Hardcover, $24.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Middle Grade

5/10

Its voice was kind, firm, honest, sharp, but reserved. A short distance away from being warm.
‘I know what you’re thinking,’ it said.
‘I can hear you across the town,’ it said.
‘No good will come of it,’ it said.
‘You can’t do it,’ it said.
‘Things are the way they are,’ it said.

‘Things are the way they are for a reason?’ she said, half asking a question.
The cat stopped washing.
‘No,’ it said, after a moment. ‘No reason. They just are, and that’s all there is to it. Some things you just have to accept and move on from.’
‘But she didn’t deserve to die,’ Ember said.
‘No,’ said the cat. ‘Few do. But she died, all the same.’

Ember and Ness are best friends, completely inseparable. Ember can’t imagine what life would be without Ness. Until Ness dies, in a most sudden and unexpected way. Ember feels completely empty. How can this even be real?

There was a tremor in his voice as he spoke. A tear on one cheek. His serious grown-up face went a little wobbly as December watched. His moustache trembled and sparkled. She tried to listen to his words, but they didn’t quite make sense. Who was he talking about? He hadn’t said anyone’s name.

Then Ember finds a way into the afterworld-a place where the recently dead reside. She knows there must be a way to bring Ness back, so she decides to find it. Because that’s what friends do: rescue each other. But the afterworld holds its own dangers. How far will Ember go to make things the way they were again?

‘No,’ shouted Ember. She hated hearing people talk like this, talk as if nothing could be changed, as if bad things were just things that happened, as if her friend didn’t count for anything, as if she were an ‘it’ and not a ‘she’. She hated this woman, whose dress was so colourful and whose smile was so warm, in this world of grey and shadow and silence.

 

 

From the pair who brought this reviewer one of her favourite middle grade novels comes another journey that hints at being just as magical. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the words that had been engaging and spot on in the previous novel seem now to have taken on a forced or pandering tone.

Where The Imaginary was full of all the things that make a middle grade tale magical (imagination, adventure, the right amount of scary), The Afterwards unfortunately feels like someone trying to repeat the steps that brought about the success of the previous novel, but without the emotional investment. As such, there are some nice messages, but at times it comes across as preachy rather than engaging, and there are certain loose ends that really should have been wrapped up, such as a comeuppance for the guy who did the wrong thing and seems to have gotten away with it scot-free. His plans don’t work out how he would have liked them to, but neither does he seem to be called out for his actions in any serious way.

In theory, this could be a good way to open the discussion about grief and loss with middle-grade kids, but in practice, this doesn’t come out so well in the telling. The themes the author seems to have been going for were those of loyalty, friendship, determination, and acceptance, but the story didn’t seem to deliver these messages particularly well. As such, this reviewer would very much not recommend this for children who are dealing with grief currently or have lost someone recently.

There are also some fairly confronting and dark scenes in this book which would suggest this isn’t the best fit for kids on the lower end of the middle grade age group, but rather those shifting up towards young adult books.

The book is still beautifully illustrated, and underneath it all readers can still find that imagination and heart The Imaginary delivered in spades, it seems this might have been just a one-off struggle with going through the motions rather than getting lost in the story, and I will definitely be keeping my eye out for new works by this duo.

 

 

Category: Book Reviews

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