Published: April 18th, 2013
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Source: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
"Ella, Astrid, and Sydney were planning the perfect summer after high school graduation. But when Astrid commits suicide in a lonely cabin, the other girls' worlds are shattered. How could their best friend have done this--to herself and to them? They knew everything about Astrid. Shouldn't they have seen this coming? Couldn't they have saved her?
As Ella hunts for the truth, and Sydney tries to dull the pain, a chilling message from Astrid leaves them wondering whether their beloved friend is communicating from the after life. The girls embark on a journey to uncover Astrid's dark secrets. The answers to those questions--questions they never dreamed of asking--will change their lives forever."~Goodreads
High School is a tumultuous time for most kids. It is often marked with extreme highs and extreme lows. Most teen escape relatively unscathed but some choose to make a terrible choice and end their lives. These individuals leave a huge hole and plenty of questions. One of the most painful things about a friend or family member's suicide is the guilt that those who are left behind are often faced with. The After Girls is the story of two girls who spend the last summer of high school mourning their best friends tragic death while trying to piece together what happened and deal with their own guilt. It deftly explores the grieving processes and pain of those left behind in a way that is both suspenseful and moving.
I'm not going to do my review the way I usually do because my feelings about this book can't be explained with bulleted lists or snarky comments. Like many people I'm all too familiar with suicide. Especially when I was in high school, it felt like an ever present shadow at my school. My junior year two of my classmates took there own lives within a couple of weeks of each other. One of the girls sat next to me in English, the other was a friend. To protect her identity I'm going to refer to her as Beth. Beth and I were not close friends. We had some classes together and we were both in drama club. We hung out rarely but we bonded at the beginning of Junior year over our mutual distaste for a certain girl in our Theater Arts class. I was in a bad place, I was dealing with the normal hormonal teenage angst as well as some family issues at the time and I wasn't myself. After a long talk with Beth one day, she turned to me and said "you have a lot to live for, you know". I don't know why, but those few words made a huge impact on me. I decided to seek help and Beth and I continued to hang out at school. Then, one morning, the principle interrupted our drama class. The news wasn't good. Beth had killed herself the night before. No one saw it coming. She was there one day and gone the next and I didn't know how to deal. We weren't best friends but she had been there for me when I needed her. I hadn't. Now, I know that I couldn't have known what was going on, she didn't tell anyone, but at 17 I felt like I could have done something.
I think that's why this story resonated with me so strongly. These two girls lose there best friend and are so wracked with guilt that they are willing to do anything to cope. Ella tries to find out why Astrid killed herself and becomes so obsessed she begins to see things. Sydney, on the other hand, begins drinking heavily and hanging out with her abhorrent ex to numb the pain. In the process they start to drive a wedge between their friendship and spiral deeper and deeper out of control. Konen does a beautiful job of making these characters and their grief intensely realistic. From the first page the reader feels for each of them and truly cares about the story. Astrid, the victim, is not who they imagined her to be. They at once feel betrayed and guilty. These are such difficult emotions to bring across and it is done perfectly.
This is not a book about death though, it is a story of resilience and survival. It is about being thankful for what we have when we have it and trying our utmost to support and love our friends while we can. What I most appreciated is that Astrid is not turned in to this glamorized martyr. She is a girl who had severe issues that were not dealt with. She chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem and left devastation in her wake. She is not villainized but she is not left without blame either. Suicide is always a messy topic for an author but I think that Konen did an amazing job with this book. I think that this is an important book for anyone who has lost someone to suicide and for teens in general. I would recommend it across the board.