Grace is enjoying a sports day outside at her young son’s private school when she notices that the building nearby is on fire. She knows her son is safe, but immediately she realizes that her teenage daughter, who had been working at the school as a nursing aide, is still inside. She runs inside the school to find Jenny and bring her to safety.
Next thing she knows, Grace is inside a hospital, and she and her daughter are both in grave condition. She also finds out that the fire was not an accident: someone targeted the school, and perhaps even intended to kill Jenny. And that someone may still be trying to finish the job.
Grace manages to gather information and start figuring out who is responsible for the fire — and why. There are a surprising number of people who had good reason to burn down the school or even to hurt Jenny.
So Afterwards is a great page-turner, a crime mystery. But it is just as much about the relationships in the family: between Grace and her daughter, of course, but between Grace and her son and Grace and her husband and other close relatives who are involved in the tale. The story delves into all the characters and how they feel about each other, how they perceive each other, and how this dramatic event has changed how they see each other. It’s really quite beautiful. The characters love each other and would do anything to protect each other. Lupton not only creates believable characters and relationships among them, but her writing style is lovely. It’s an excellent book.
Unfortunately, there were a couple of drawbacks for me: one, I’d read her first book, Sister, and the way it’s narrated and the way the story unfolds and is resolved are very similar to this second novel. I think she took some of the emotional punch out of this new book for those who read Sister. Second, the book could potentially be pretty clean, but for some reason, she fills it with f-words for what seem to me to be no reason. I could understand a couple of instances of great emotion in which that strong word is used to really underline a point, but using it so frequently just is unnecessary and puzzling.
Despite its drawbacks, Afterwards is a powerfully affecting and beautiful novel about the love between a mother and a daughter and other family members.
Rated: High, for about 30 uses of strong language, and a few uses of other milder language. There are a few references to sex but no sexual scenes or details.