A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Colleen Clayton's novel What Happens Next is about a teenage girl, Cassidy Murphy, who is drugged and date-raped while on a high school ski trip. Cassidy is so upset and confused by what has happened to her that she keeps the experience -- most of which she can't even remember -- locked inside. This book deals with serious teen issues, including safety, surviving rape, bulimia, body image, and feelings about sex. Some of the teens in the book are sexually active (though sex isn't described graphically). Teens also drink beer, and an adult drinks whiskey on a ski lift. One 18-year-old smokes cigarettes and grows marijuana. There's a lot of strong language in the book ("bulls--t," "f--kers," "bitch," "ass," "tits," "titty"); some is used very cruelly, including the name of the fictional website "gingerbitch.com," which is created to cyberbully Cassidy. There's a physical fight in which two girls hit, kick, and pull hair. In another scene, a girls slaps a boy.
What's the story?
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT begins when teenagers Cassidy Murphy and her best friends, Kristen and Paige, leave for a high school-sponsored ski trip. Cassidy meets a boy on the slopes who seems nice, and seems to be very interested in her. He asks her to sneak away from her school group and go with him to a party the next night. Against her friends' advice, Cassidy leaves alone and meets the boy. The next morning, she wakes up alone in a strange bed and can't remember what happened during the night, but the state of her clothing tells her that she was raped. Cassidy keeps the rape secret from her family and friends, but it has changed her, and she struggles with feelings of self-loathing, which manifest in an eating disorder and a compulsion to exercise and lose weight. Various events trigger what to her friends are inexplicably strong reactions from Cassidy. She wants to tell, but that would make what happened too real.
Is it any good?
Clayton's characters are quite believable -- painfully so -- and Cassidy, in particular, is a teen about whom readers will care quite a bit. Author Colleen Clayton worked as a social worker helping troubled teens, and as a program supervisor for Big Brothers Big Sisters. So, she comes to this novel armed with a deep understanding of teen response to sexual assault and the other serious issues concerning body image, intimacy, etc., that protagonist Cassidy faces.
What Happens Next also has some lighter moments as Cassidy interacts with her little brother, Liam, and her friends, so the novel isn't overly intense -- just appropriately so.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Cassidy keeps her rape a secret. Why do you think she can't bear to tell her family or friends?
Do you think this book portrays teens and teen relationships accurately? What feels real, or false, to you about these characters?
Why do you think Cassidy develops an eating disorder?
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