Book review: Afterward, by Jennifer Mathieu

Mathieu, Jennifer. Afterward. Roaring Brook, 2016. $17.99. ISBN 9781626722385. 314 pgs. Ages 14 and up. P7 Q8

Ethan is a fifteen-year-old boy who was kidnapped four years ago by a stranger. When the man takes another child, Dylan, police capture the kidnapper and find Ethan. Because Dylan is autistic, he is unable to clearly relate his experience to his family, so Dylan’s older sister, Caroline, finds herself seeking out Ethan in an attempt to understand what her younger brother has been through. Ethan is trying to adjust to being back with family; he is working through complex feelings of guilt, shame, and trauma from the abuse he suffered at the hands of his kidnapper and is not ready to talk about his experience, but he and Caroline are able to bond over music and start their own band while trying to handle what happened to Ethan and Caroline’s brother.

Verdict: This book is not a fast-paced read, but it delves deeply into the confusion and pain that one goes through after suffering abuse and trauma. It will hold the readers’ interest because of its honest depiction of PTSD. Teens will find this to be a book that is hard to forget and are likely to recommend to others.

March 2019 review by Sudi Stodola.

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Book review: After the Woods, by Kim Savage

Savage, Kim. After the Woods. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016. $17.99. ISBN 9780374300555. 294 pgs. Ages 14 and up. P7 Q8

While out running together, Julia’s best friend Liv was attacked by a predator. Julia attacked him in order to save her friend, but was caught herself. With a bit of luck, she was able to escape after being held 48 hours, but now it’s a year later and the fallout is still happening. Liv seems to be bent on self-destruction, while Julia is dealing with the memories that keep surfacing as the news stations relentlessly cover the story of the body of another young girl found in the woods not far from where she was grabbed. As Julia tries to face her ordeal head-on, she soon learns that there are many dark twists and nobody, not even her best friend, is who or what they claim to be.

Verdict: This is a well-paced mystery with an exciting plot. While the background characters seem underdeveloped, the action compels the reader to keep turning the pages.

March 2019 review by Sudi Stodola.

Book review: The Cruelty, by Scott Bergstrom

Bergstrom, Scott.  The Cruelty.  Feiwel and Friends,  2017.  $18.99.  ISBN 978-1-250-10818-0.  384 pages.  Ages 17 – 18 years.  Q7P7

Gwen’s father, a diplomat who mysteriously disappears and, for an unknown reason, the same government he works for does not appear enthusiastic to get him back (the reasons behind this are their own sub-plot). Because of this Gwen takes it upon herself to find him.  Thankfully, Gwen’s father has left behind some clues indicating not only that this might happen, but where to start looking.  This all sounds like it could be a pretty good story and it could be, unfortunately, it’s a little far-fetched as written.  Gwen’s father was taken by one of the most feared crime families in Prague, one dealing in arms smuggling and human trafficking.  In order to make the rescue achievable by a teenager, the author has to compromise the believability of some (most) of the scenarios Gwen finds herself in.  For instance, she is able to break into the warehouse of a crime boss in Munich by breaking the padlock.  A padlock is all that is needed to protect millions of dollars of stolen merchandise?  No security camera, guard, or even a guard dog?  This lack of believability is throughout the book.  Where the author is believable is the brutality, which makes me question if this started out as an adult novel, not young adult.

Verdict:  I like the idea of the story, and I like the characters, but it seems like this was a story designed for Liam Neeson to be the lead character, not a 17 year old girl, and the adaptation to make that happen did not go well.

June 2017 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: Outlaw, by Stephen Davies

Stephen Davies. Outlaw. Clarion Books, 2011. $16.99. ISBN 9780547-390178. 289 p. Gr. 6 – 12. P7Q7

davies-outlawOutlaw is a book about Jake and his sister, Kas Knight.  While in Africa, they are kidnapped.  The kidnappers demand certain terrorists be set free in exchange for the kids’ safe return.  In this daring thriller the kids are rescued by 5 mysterious figures wielding slingshots; these rescuers are known as the Friends of the Poor.  When they are mistaken for terrorists the British intelligence service – M16- gets involved.

September 2016 review by Sam Case Elementary student S.H.