What Happens Next

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
What Happens Next Book Poster Image
Intense novel explores feelings of date-rape survivor.

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Kids say

age 13+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Colleen Clayton, the author of What Happens Next, worked as a social worker in a residential center helping troubled teens, and as a program supervisor for Big Brothers Big Sisters in her community. So her portrayal of Cassidy Murphy's suffering, her eating disorder, and her emotional walls is informed and will be instructional to teens. Also, though the novel at no time blames the victim, there's a cautionary tale about safety here: Those rules about curfew and not going anywhere with strangers are rules for a reason. Readers will also learn about high school life in general, and life/communities around Cleveland, Ohio, in specific. Near the end, the novel quotes parts of the Shakespeare sonnet "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day" and Mary Howitt's "The Spider and the Fly."

Positive Messages

What Happens Next shows a wide range of teen relationships, and places a high value on real, caring friends as opposed to kids who judge others based on appearance, popularity, or even reputation. The novel also focuses on girls' body image and understanding the difference between healthy weight loss and Cassidy's self-destructive need to control or change herself.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Cassidy's mom, Katherine, is devoted, loving, and responsible. She's a friend to her daughter, but she lays down the law when she feels Cassidy's health or safety may be jeopardized. Corey is perhaps a little too good to be true, but he is a gentle, patient boyfriend and sets a nice example for teen boys.


The most violent act in this novel happens "offstage": Protagonist Cassidy is drugged and date-raped. She knows she has been violated, but she doesn't remember anything after the moment when she started to feel odd and dropped her soda glass. There's a physical fight between two girls in which they hit, kick, and pull hair. In another scene, a girls slaps a boy. There's cyberbullying in this book, especially via the fictional website "gingerbitch.com," which a mean girl creates to show embarrassing pictures of Cassidy.


At a party, Cassidy observes couples making out; at one point she walks into a room and a girl pulls her top back down. Cassidy's friend Kirsten has sex with a boyfriend; this is not described graphically, but explained in tandem with the fact that the boy dumped Kristen for another girl soon after they had sex. Cassidy develops a nice relationship with Corey; they kiss passionately, and she describes what she likes about his body and how kissing him makes her feel, but they keep their clothes on and she inwardly debates what she's ready to do with him. Cassidy is embarrassed by the fact she has a very curvy figure for a girl her age, and has had since she was 11. She recalls how she felt when mean kids would call her "Siddy Siddy, big fat titty."


Foul language includes the words "bulls--t," "bs--t" (via text), "f--kers," "bitch," "ass," and "tits" and the fictional website name "gingerbitch.com." Cassidy also recalls how embarrassed she was when she developed breasts before other girls her age, and kids would call her "Siddy Siddy, big fat titty."


McDonald's, Starbucks, Coke, the sleep aid Ambien, car makers such as Acura, Mercedes, Porsche, Corvette, TV shows America's Got Talent, Iron Chef America, and the channel QVC. Cassidy's little brother gets a Spider-Man birthday cake.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A guy Cassidy meets on her ski trip drinks whiskey from a flask while on the chair lift. Cassidy is later drugged and raped; she does not choose to take the drug, and we don't know what it was. She does, however, borrow her mother's Ambien in order to sleep at least once. Cassidy's classmates drink beer at parties, and some kids get drunk. Corey smokes cigarettes at the beginning of the book, but later he quits. Corey has been to "juvie" for growing pot.

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.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written bytrustytruth20 October 10, 2013

Really good!!!

this book is really hard to put down and very deep! i would recommend to read it for teens 13 and up :)

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?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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