Book Title: Aftermath
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Genres: YA, Contemporary Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pub Date: 05/22/18
Three years after losing her brother Luka in a school shooting, Skye Gilchrist is moving home. But there’s no sympathy for Skye and her family because Luka wasn’t a victim; he was a shooter.
Jesse Mandal knows all too well that the scars of the past don’t heal easily. The shooting cost Jesse his brother and his best friend–Skye.
Ripped apart by tragedy, Jesse and Skye can’t resist reopening the mysteries of their past. But old wounds hide darker secrets. And the closer Skye and Jesse get to the truth of what happened that day, the closer they get to a new killer.
“I didn’t HAVE to,” she says. “I chose to. Sometimes, showing compassion for others means doing things that are painful for us.”
Folks, this is a book that will stay with me indefinitely. One of the more beautiful aspects of YA fiction is how it can completely take you by surprise by simultaneously sweeping you off your feet and doubling you over with a punch to the gut. This is such a book. I finished Aftermath days ago and my emotions are persisting in their wide range of feelings. Obviously the subject matter is delicate, but even the sub-stories within that deal with race, culture, and family dynamics proceed to dig their way below the surface. I felt the emotional equivalent of being struck by an arrow that pierces the skin and isn’t able to be just pulled out, because it’s head is unable to be reversed the way it went in. It was a beautiful, painful experience, and here’s why you should read it…
This is a YA novel written for everyone. Yes, I’m aware that a good bit of YA novels, even ones I enjoy from time to time, are a bit cheesy and underwhelming to most adult readers. Whether the dialogue is trying too hard or the content is flat out unrealistic, these cliches can make-or-break a book for those wanting to dabble in fiction that is aimed at a younger audience. Aftermath is a well written character study with a tinge of mystery and suspense, one that bypasses lingo that’s trying too hard and sticks to content that matters and is relevant to readers of all ages. I flew through this book as I grew connected to Skye and Jesse/Jasser, because they felt like real, tangible people rather than a glossy magazine spread meant to resemble such.
The content is unsettling and disturbing, but far from graphic. Yes, there are a brief handful of moments with insight into the shooting itself, but these were mostly tame and developed through the emotions of our protagonists rather than relying on shock value and gory flashbacks. I not only felt this was more effective than telling the story the horror route, but also made the story age appropriate for a wider audience, especially those who may be a more sensitive reader wanting to read about a relevant plot so crucial to our current events in America. Please be advised though that this book IS disturbing, unsettling, and horrifying and each reader should take note before choosing to pick this one up.
Jesse’s mom is the hero of this story, and the diversity is natural. Without delving into spoiler territory, I want to give you insight into one portion of the story which deserves all the attention and credit due. One of our POVs is from Jesse, given name Jasser, who comes from a muslim family. His father is an engineer and his mother is a doctor, but his family still deals with racism and harassment on a regular basis. Armstrong noted in the acknowledgements that she developed this fictional family with the help of a similar one in real life, because she was so determined to have proper representation. Jasser’s mom is, in fact, the glue that holds all of the broken people in this story together. She exudes love, support, grace, and understanding, even to those who do not deserve it. She is a classy, upstanding citizen with a wicked sense of humor and a burning deep in her soul to be involved in her children’s lives. She is a protective mama bear, not only of her children but of those who don’t have a mother to fight in their corner. The Mandals are a family that I grew to feel a part of, and I feel an odd sense of displacement now that the story is over because they felt so… real.
I feel I should mention that the mystery surrounding Skye’s brother and the details of the shooting actually takes a backseat to the exquisite character study that exists here. We do get some answers at the end, but I was left unsure of the reason that the shooting happened in the first place. Regardless, we receive enough answers to put our detective cap aside and let it be. If you enjoy novels that bring forth a well of emotions, both happy and sad, this one’s for you. This book is important and focuses on so many necessary themes, such as forgiveness, reconciliation, family bonds (both by blood and those that we choose), and many others I won’t mention simply so that you can experience them first hand. Highly recommended and I can’t wait to chat about this book with others once they’ve read it.
*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy via NetGalley.