When the school explodes into a fiery inferno on that summer day, Grace does what any mother would do. She runs into the building to find the one child who isn’t on the outside. Her seventeen-year-old daughter Jenny, who is upstairs, where she was working as a teaching assistant.
It is in the aftermath that we learn the fates of Jenny, of Grace, and why Adam stopped speaking. And we learn that the fire has been labeled an arson.
Our narrator in this captivating story is Grace, whose body is unconscious and supposedly without cognitive function. She tells the story as if addressing her husband Michael; she refers to him as “you.” She communicates with her unconscious and desperately ill daughter Jenny, and can hear and observe what others are saying and doing. But she cannot speak or communicate with anyone but Jenny.
When the police focus their investigation onto her eight-year-old son Adam because of an anonymous “witness,” she “floats” around to listen in on conversations and try to figure out what happened. She has a mission. To save her daughter Jenny and to find out who started the fire and why, so she can save her son.
What, if anything, does the teacher fired three months before have to do with this disaster? How is Maisie’s husband Donald connected to the school and what is happening? And who else might have been involved?
Through various twists and turns, a bit of misdirection through the lies of witnesses, we finally find ourselves on the tangled pathway to the truth. But just when we think we know what happened, there is still another piece of the story that comes to light.
What will happen to Grace and Jenny? Will there be a happily ever after for them? Will there be an afterwards?
I couldn’t put this book down. I felt so invested in Grace’s story and her quest, and in turn, I disliked many of the characters who each had done something wrong and put others at risk. The lies, the hidden motivations–all combined to reveal the blacks, the whites, and how the two seldom merge. Like separate aspects of the same person, sometimes the good wins out, and other times it does not. A riveting, engaging story, Afterwards: A Novel earned five stars.