Wednesday, Sep 30, 2009
Author: Julie Buxbaum
Publisher: One Dial Press/Random House
ISBN #: 978-0-385-34124-0
Pages: 352 Hardback
Published: August 25, 2009
Purchase: $16.50 (HERE)
Ellie Lerner has just lost Lucy, her best friend since childhood. Lucy was murdered in the streets of her hometown, Notting Hill, London. Lucy’s 8-year old daughter, Sophie, witnessed the murder, is in shock, and has stopped speaking. Ellie immediately travels from her home in the U.S. to London to be with Sophie and lend a hand to Greg, Lucy’s husband.
After Ellie’s absence exceeds his expectations, Ellie’s husband, Phillip, is less than enthusiastic about Ellie being so far from home. He presses her to come home as soon as possible, however Ellie just can’t imagine leaving her god-daughter who clearly was still in so much pain. Greg isn’t able to be much of a father to Sophie and retreats into his grief. As Ellie is a lover of books, she decides that The Secret Garden is just the book for her and Sophie to read together. She hopes this book will build a bridge between them and help Sophie deal with her grief. And, so it does… little by little, this story they share creates an opportunity for Ellie and Sophie to bond as they grieve the loss of Lucy, together.
Not only is Ellie still in mourning Lucy’s death, she is still grieving the loss of her baby, Oliver. Since her baby’s unexpected death, in vitro at 8 months gestation, Ellie’s marriage has been on the brink of collapse as she pushes her husband, Phillip, away. Now, with this extended absence in England, Ellie’s marriage falls farther and farther into an eventual break-up. But, all she can think about is Sophie. She wants to help this little girl overcome the great hurts in her life.
Ellie urges Greg find a way out of his isolated grief to participate in the healing of Sophie’s heart and mind after the traumatic experience. And, so the two of them tackle the issues of nightmares, bed-wetting, and school problems with love and getting her professional help. The closer that Ellie gets to Sophie, the farther she gets from home. Phillip loses all patience with Ellie’s absence from the marriage and files for divorce.
Torn between her old life and the new one she found while parenting Sophie, Ellie must discover the path which will lead her back to happiness. As she uncovers the secrets and lies that Lucy kept before her untimely death, Ellie realizes truths about the person she thought she knew best in this world. Simultaneously, she is faced with the discovery of self… and the need for her soul to be true to it.
I had read wonderful things about After You, as well as The Opposite of Love, on the internet. Several blogs have mentioned that this author writes great books. Their recommendations were spot-on!
I literally absorbed this book in the matter of 2 days, or so. I felt an immediate connection with the story and its characters. Buxbaum expertly ties the readers to the protagonist, Ellie, as quickly as the story began. Her portrayal of 8-year old Sophie absolutely tugs at your heart strings. As the reader of this novel, you imagine what it would be like to be Sophie and witness your mother brutally stabbed and killed over a street robbery incident… standing there helpless and afraid. How does this nightmare of this magnitude ever leave a person who witnesses such a horrific event? How does one avoid feeling responsible or guilty in some way?
With immediate connections to both Ellie and Sophie, After You‘s readers will just as easily find an understanding of both Greg and Phillip. Both men are humanly flawed and allow the reader to wish for nothing but to see them overcome their painful hurdles. Ultimately, they are both good men.
My favorite line of the book is when Ellie is trying to reel Sophie into reading The Secret Garden with her:
“And you know what else? Books are almost a religion for me. Probably the only guaranteed way to get out of my own head and escape for a little while. You know what I mean?”
Another part of the story which I related to is when Ellie is pondering how her extended stay in London, and looming break-up with Phillip, will end up:
“But this is not a movie, and things are never simple. Besides which I have no interest in seeing Greg naked. We are fellow soldiers at war-he is my brother, he is my comrade-and so there will be no falling into bed and easy cleanup. Our lives are not a puzzle that needs solving but blurry pieces, loose ends, competing loyalties. Resolution has no place in our story.
Instead, I will keep sitting here, sipping my scotch, and wondering who I’ve suddenly become without the people who most defined me.”
… Without the people who most defined me… that really strikes a chord with me. How much of our selves are defined by our relationships with others?
With relatable characters, real-life challenges, and emotional writing that keeps you connected, you will find After You a book that you’re glad you picked up and most likely won’t be able to put down!
On Sher’s “Out of Ten Scale,” I am giving After You a rating of 9 out of 10 in the genre of fiction. There was such ease in reading this book about human complexities.
P.S. I liked this book so much that I ordered The Opposite of Love and The Secret Garden (*nope, never read it*) off Amazon.com tonight!
I wanted to thank Julie Buxbaum for providing me such a wonderful novel to read and share!