A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Math facts and jokes populate the pages of this book. That's the way the main character is able to understand the world.
There's no prize for being perfect. Be kind. Being scared when you do something is brave. One or two friends is sometimes all you need. Listen to your heart. Everyone grieves differently. Sometimes people who love us the most break our hearts without meaning to. You can forgive and move on. Everyone is figuring out how to cope with life. Grown-ups make mistakes, too. Grief can go on forever, but love goes on forever also.
Positive Role Models
The parents of the main character, Lucy, are flawed and frozen in grief, but they do try to connect, eventually moving through their grief with their daughter. Lucy's mom reminds her that she can tell her anything no matter how difficult it is. Lucy's dad tries to connect with her by leaving jokes in her room. Lucy's math teacher is someone she learns to trust very quickly. He helps her navigate her confusion about being new in a school where there's been a school shooting.
Lucy's teacher and mentor, Mr. Jackson, is Black. He serves as a role model and an important figure to her during a difficult time. There are kids in her class and at her school who may have diverse backgrounds, but it's not emphasized. Lucy and her family are Jewish and are presumably White.
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Violence & Scariness
Very intimate details about life after a school shooting massacre. Not gory, but there are details of where the kids were when the shooting happened, who was holding whose hands, who stood behind which person when they were shot, who was killed, who survived. Lucy begins attending this school as a survivor of her brother's own death, which she revisits again and again. Her brother died as a small child, after having a heart condition. She talks about sitting "in the spot where your brother drowned in his own lungs," about the toys he'd hidden all over the house that would send the family into bouts of grief when they found them. Her memories of him involve his hospital stays and the tubes and machines connected to his body.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Lucy says, "sounds like Dad has had more than a few glasses of wine" when her father yells and slams down his glass. Lucy observes that after 30 years, the teacher's lounge still smells like cigarettes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that AfterMath is set in a middle school in Virginia where the kids at the school have survived a mass shooting that killed 32 third-graders. On the first day of school, the main character, 12-year-old Lucy, who's new in town and has suffered the loss of her 5-year-old younger brother due to a heart condition, is introduced to the tragedy first hand. Her peer guide describes the shooting spree four years before, and the fact that most of the kids in the school have PTSD. Kids explain where they were standing when the shooter came through the doors. Lucy has moved into the house of a girl who was killed at school. She's aware of this, but understands it more concretely when a kid says of the dead girl, "I was holding her hand when she was shot." Though the main character has some personal breakthroughs in dealing with her own grief, the subject matter at hand can be very triggering for any kid who's experienced tragedy. The tone of the book takes a head-on approach to school massacres, which may be too intense even for kids who haven't been exposed to tragedy.
Is It Any Good?
Though there are some glimmers of hope that shine through the tragedy, this story may be too intense for most young readers. It's an everyday reality, after all, that kids these days have to undergo active shooter drills at school. The attempt to tackle this subject, as debut author Emily Barth Isler does in AfterMath, is certainly well-intentioned. But it lacks nuance.
There are tender moments as Lucy's parents realize their grief has overshadowed their ability to connect with their surviving kid. Some of the dialogue is pitch-perfect. But the enormity of the grief, the intensity of the pain is an awful lot to confront in a book about a girl adjusting to new school. The personal tragedy of losing a brother might have been sufficient for this story. The mass shooting theme is simply too burdensome for this narrative to handle.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.