Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu
Published: September 20, 2016 by Roaring Book Press
Source: 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. [goodreads]
Going into this novel I knew it would be heavy, but I was not prepared for the personal connection I would feel towards the characters and their stories they had to tell. Caroline's little brother Dylan has just been abducted. But before she, or her parents, can fully grasp the nightmare they are now living, he is returned home in a matter of days. But since Dylan is autistic he struggles with expressing his fears, leaving Caroline hopeless in trying to help him past these demons. She seeks answers in the most unlikely place: with Ethan, the other boy who had been found along with Dylan, after being kidnapped for four years.
The story is told in the after, alternating between Ethan and Caroline's voices, allowing the reader a perspective on two very different stories and how they merge into one. Ethan is slowly easing his way back into a life he knows nothing about, only faded memories of two loving parents in what was once a safe home. He struggles through therapy as he tries to piece together the traumatic events that led to his discovery and return home. He finds solace in his new friendship with Caroline, as they avoid the elephant in the room and the reason why they know each other now, and find their own source of therapy through playing music together.
I hurt for Ethan as he struggled to understand what happened to him and how to even begin to move forward. I also hurt for Caroline who feels responsible for her baby brother's abduction and the fall out between her parents. They both really spoke to me, in their own individual voices. How they chose to deal with those demons felt authentic and real. No matter how messy it got, I had faith they'd find each other on the other side. There's a darkness to this story that was difficult to swallow at times, knowing the reality that there are awful people out there that do awful things to children like this. But there's also a beauty in the healing, and how they're able to find peace in the most unlikely places. This was my first Jennifer Mathieu novel to read, and certainly won't be my last.