Monday, June 24, 2019

The Afterwards by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett

December, nicknamed Ember, and Happiness, called Ness, live next door to each other and have been best friends for three years now. They did everything together, walking to and from school, playing in the schoolyard, and having lots of laughs and fun with each other. So Ember is pretty surprised one day when she calls for Ness to walk to school and no one answers the door.

At school, it's announced that one of the students has died after an accident, and to Ember's surprise and distress it turns out to be Ness. This is hard news to take, and Ember is understandably distracted, so when her creepy Uncle Graham picks her up from school one day, she unquestioningly goes to his house with him. When evening comes, he says he is taking Ember home, but instead they end up in a place that is black, white, and grey. There, Uncle Graham finds his recently deceased dog, and Ember find Ness sitting on the steps in front of her now grey empty house. Ember is excited to see Ness, but Ness is quite lackluster and grey.

When Ember discovers that Uncle Graham brought her to this place called the afterwards, where people go to forget their lives and are only echoes of their living selves, in order to swap her living self for his dog's dead self and bring the dog back home - alive and well. Luckily, there's a mangy, but wise cat who takes an interest in Ember, and a mysterious lady named Ms. Todd who gets Ember back among the living. Ember knows that there is a way to bring back the dead and that is just what she intends to do for Ness. After all, isn't that just what best friends would do? But when Ember finds herself stuck in the afterwards is there really no way out?

The Afterwards is a very dark, surreal fantasy told in the third person from Ember's point of view so the reader is privy to her feelings, thoughts and plans. The writing is simple, straightforward, so matter-of-fact that it makes the uncanny feel almost real. Harrold has imbued Ember with qualities of courage, loyalty, and vulnerability. She never tries to understand what has happened, only focusing on rescuing Ness from death, despite being told over and over by the cat and Ms. Todd that that can't be done. Ember never questions where Uncle Graham got his directions to the afterward, simply accepting that he did. She simply focuses on the task she's set for herself. In this way Harrold effectively deals with themes of loss, grieving,  and then being about to move on and live life.

Gravett's illustrations, often fusing color and grey to distinguish between the living and the deceased add to the sinister feeling of the story, and there were certainly times when I felt like something really ominous what going to happen, but the illustrations brought the story back to where it belonged - disturbing but not horror.

The Afterwards is definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but if you like stories that are dark yet poignant this is a really good choice. In fact, if you loved Neil Gaiman's Coraline, then The Afterwards is definitely a book for you. The writing creates that same haunting feeling of entering an in-between world that exists but doesn't exist, that's familiar but not familiar and it is all deliciously creepy.

This book is recommended for readers age 11+
This book was bought for my personal library

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