Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.
I remember being in fourth grade when Columbine happened. I was in my second year of teaching when Sandy Hook happened. School shootings are true tragedies that affect those involved the rest of their lives.
AfterMath, by Emily Barth Isler, gives readers an inside look at grief, loss and devastation surrounding family, friends and gun violence.
Lucy is a seventh-grade girl who is moving to a new town after her little brother, Theo, dies from a heart condition. She moves to Queensland, Virginia, a town who experienced a school shooting in the elementary school a few years ago. She is the only student in her grade who was not part of that horrific day, but she is also grieving.
First, I must mention that I really loved the concept of this text. Typically, we read writings of the actual events that happen, but in this case, we see the ‘after’. We see how families, students, teachers, and the community grapple with tragic events that can never be forgotten.
I enjoyed the writing style of this book. I read it in two sittings and was thoroughly engaged. I love that there are little math questions and jokes, which emphasize Lucy’s need for definitive, black and white answers at this time. The point of view of Lucy is extremely effective. Readers of all ages can connect to being the new kid, experiencing loss, dealing with parents, and making friends.
Throughout the book, the theme of grief is seen in multiple ways.
Lucy’s grief. Lucy internalizes her feelings. She keeps her thoughts and emotions hidden not only from her new classmates, but also her parents. She doesn’t tell anyone at school about Theo because the teachers and students are already dealing with their own losses, and she doesn’t want it to seem as though she is competing with that. She doesn’t tell her parents because she has always had to be the ‘easy’ child. She gets good grades and does what is expected of her to make life easier for her parents. Also, her parents don’t communicate their feelings and memories of Theo, so the three of them constantly have an elephant in the room.
School’s grief. Lucy’s classmates react to their grief and loss differently than she does. They discuss the events and their feelings openly and matter of factly. They frequently bring up the shooting, their therapy sessions, injuries and emotions to one another to cope. The bond the school community has is supportive and loving.
The comparisons between the two situations shows readers that coping comes in many forms, depending on the individual and situation. Regardless of how someone grieves, we need to be supportive and understanding. Communication and honesty are also important aspects of the grieving process.
The theme of friendship is also seen in the story when Lucy befriends Avery, the girl no one notices. I don’t want to give away parts of the plot, but the author demonstrates to readers that kindness, standing up for one another, forgiveness and trust are all vital parts in a true friendship. Sometimes doing the right thing can be uncomfortable, but we must listen to our hearts and guts.
I would recommend this book for readers in sixth grade and up because of the mature topics. I can see this being used in a classroom as a whole class novel, especially since the author included some thoughtful discussions questions that highlight the themes in the text.
I would also like to add that this is the author’s first novel, which surprised me. Her writing is poignant, honest, supportive and loving. I could feel her warmth towards families affected by school shootings throughout my reading. I can’t wait to see what this talented writer does next.
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Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading, writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.