Forgiveness, resiliency, hope. What does it look like? How do you pick up the pieces after a tragedy? This is an introspective, character-driven story of 3 people reeling from unimaginable losses.
Two families are left devastated following the murder-suicide of their teens, Daniel and Jonah, who were best friends. Isaac and Lorrie, the parents who are next door neighbors, are now connected forever due to this tragedy. Each has a painful history which complicates the grieving process.
Evangeline , a 16 year old homeless pregnant girl, is found by Isaac in the woods behind his house and takes her in. With Isaac and Lorrie’s help, she begins her own healing. She has a secret that can shed light on Daniel and Jonah’s relationship and what happened between them.
How these three connect and begin to heal and live again is the main theme in this story. The story is told from several points of view, including Jonah’s, which sheds light on the past and what led to the tragedy.
Isaac’s Quaker faith plays a part in the story and I enjoyed learning about their traditions, a subject I knew little about.
Rufus, Isaac’s dog, is the other character in the book. He is the intuitive dog who senses your every emotion and creates strong bonds with their humans. I loved him.
I do wish the author would have toned down certain events with the animals in the book. I don’t like the phrase “trigger warnings”, but I will say there was a section that brought back painful memories, and I had to put it down and walk away several times. Yet, am I still glad I read this book? Yes.
This was a buddy read with my friend Marialyce, and it inspired a lot of discussion. It would make a terrific book club selection.
This is an amazing debut. The author’s work as a lawyer and mediator no doubt influenced the book’s themes of resilience, forgiveness, and healing. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
How do we reconcile our lives after we have experienced an enormous tragedy? Do things ever go back to normal or do we now live through a “new” normal as we piece together a life, we might feel is not quite worth living?
In this debut book, What Comes After, the author, Joanne Thompkins gives us a view of people coping and using whatever it might be to go on. We meet Evangeline, a teenage girl who has been battered by life, and finds herself in an untenable position. She is caught in a revolving door of tragedy, one that has compelled her into a life on the street, hidden in the woods, left destitute. She meets two young teen boys and her life takes a definite turn as it does for the boys Jonah and Daniel.
Daniel is the star of his high school, in reality he has been all his life. Handsome, charismatic, he holds the world at his fingertips yet there is something that makes Daniel something that churns inside with the ability to hurt. Jonah, both his next-door neighbor and best friend, is the polar opposite. He has a hard time making friends, he is adrift not knowing the right things to do to be accepted but he has Daniel. Tragedy, poor decision making and circumstance set the boys on a path to a place they never thought themselves to go.
Then there are the parents, Isac, Daniel’s father, and Lorrie, Jonah’s mother. They too, have experienced loss, she with her son watching her husband commit a heinous act, while Isaac has had his wife leave him and desert his son. Where do these people go for solace, for comfort, for the ability to find a way to go forward? Isaac tries to resort to his Quaker religion, a very interesting aspect of the story, while Lorrie just retreats into studying for a better life. She holds her daughter close but her character is difficult to comprehend, as the author gives us little clues as to how she reacts.
They all come together because of tragedy as they all search for how they can move in the world that has treated them so poorly. Ms Tompkins gives the reader much to mull over as she gives us no definitive answers except maybe one, the power of forgiveness. This was a complicated story, informing us that people often act and react in a manner that seems unnatural to us. Everyone handles grief and suffering differently and surely, we see through these characters the various ways one can find to carry on. While the reader may question their actions, they will come away with an understanding that at times good can come from something terrible and awful.
This was an amazing debut story and I hope the author continues to write more stories.
As warnings…there are a few,….the scenes the author depicts of the dog, Rufus is not only tragic but also heartbreaking, but then again, the whole book is heartbreaking as well.
Definitely recommend this story for the discussions, the understanding, and the thoughts presented. Life is hard and often has no silver lining, and yet somethings there is the glimmer of hope.
What a discussion Jan and I had over this one! It was once again a joy to read a book with my best book partner!
and here’s the author:
JoAnne Tompkins is the author of WHAT COMES AFTER, published April 2021 by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Her first career as a trial lawyer and mediator immersed her in lives disrupted by conflict, injury, and far too often violence and abuse. Yet, she discovered in many a resiliency and passion for life that continues to move her. Her written work explores the small moments that hold the possibility of transformation and for finding grace in life’s darkest times. Her short work has appeared in journals such as High Country News, Lithub, Writer in the World, Stratus: Journal of Arts and Writing. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She lives in Port Townsend, Washington.