Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fiction Review: After You

After You by Julie Buxbaum is the kind of novel you get lost in, where partway through, you feel like the characters are friends and you live as much in their fictional world as in your own real world. Of course, it probably helped that I read it during a sick week when I desperately wanted to escape my own miserable life, but I think credit belongs to Buxbaum’s writing.

Ellie Lerner rushes from her home in Boston to London when she learns that her lifelong friend, Lucy, had been brutally murdered. After the funeral, Ellie decides to stay for a while to help Lucy’s husband and 8-year old daughter Sophie. She remembers her own mother comforting her after her grandmother died by reading The Secret Garden together, so she decides to read the book with Sophie. Here, she and Sophie cuddle together on the bed to read:

I wonder now how many times Lucy sat in this exact spot, on Sophie’s bed, with the weight of Sophie’s head against her shoulder. If she, too, felt that sharing her favorite book was the purest way to express love, like telling your secrets or saying a prayer out loud.

“Hey, Soph, I bet you didn’t know that in certain cultures you aren’t supposed to put books on the floor or go near them with your feet. The idea is that they’re special, almost like magic or something.”

Sophie moves in a little closer, looks up at me, her expression impenetrable. I’ve dropped my kid tone, because I think I’ve been underselling her. I’ve noticed that she holds books with the same reverence as I do, taking a breath before she opens the cover, sitting still for a moment when she closes one. The way she gets lost in Nancy Drew, lets herself to be carried off to one girl’s adventures in Indiana, tells me she has a much richer inner life than I’ve been giving her credit for.

Sophie is devastated by her mother’s sudden death, but Ellie begins to make some progress with her, and her support is essential since Sophie’s dad seems lost in his own grief. Things aren’t always what they seem, though. As Ellie struggles with her own husband, who’s back home in Boston, she discovers secrets about her best friend Lucy that she never suspected. Ellie begins to feel that her whole life is unraveling and nothing is as simple as it seems.

This book tackles the complexities of marriage, friendship, and grief, but it is also about the healing power of books in general and a love song to The Secret Garden in particular. I came to really care about Ellie and Sophie and was rooting for both of them to work out their problems and find happiness again. It was a warm and compelling story, right to the last page, and I think I'm way overdue for a reread of The Secret Garden.

336 pages, The Dial Press


  1. I read this one also Sue, and thought it was pretty good. I enjoyed your review.

  2. Thanks so much for the lovely and thoughtful review of AFTER YOU! So glad to hear you enjoyed the book, and so appreciate you taking the time to write about it.
    All the best,
    Julie Buxbaum

  3. Aww, sounds wonderful! I loved The Secret Garden so maybe this is one for me too!

  4. Thanks for pointing out your review to me.

    Seems like it affected us both in a similar way,the characters did feel like friends.