Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong
Published by: PRH Canada Young Readers
Publication Date: May 22, 2018
Genre: Contemporary, Thriller
Page Count: 384
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Three years ago, Skye’s brother Luka died in a mass shooting at the local high school. But there’s no sympathy for Skye and her family because Luka wasn’t a victim — he was a shooter. Now, Skye returns to the small town she had fled to start anew. But the scars of the past don’t heal easily. And there’s one person Skye dreads seeing most: Jesse Mandal. Her childhood crush and former best friend until the massacre tore them apart.
Told in alternating points of view, Skye and Jesse wade into the mystery of what took place that fateful day. But someone clearly doesn’t want Skye back in town, and when she and Jesse uncover new evidence that could clear Luka’s name, it becomes obvious that someone wants the past to stay buried.
In the aftermath of violence, someone has to pay. Blood for blood.
“There’s grief, too, but I bury that even faster. You aren’t allowed to grieve for someone like Luka. It doesn’t matter if he was an amazing brother. Luka Gilchrist was a monster. Write it on the board a hundred times and don’t ever forget it.”
I knew coming into this book that I’d more than likely be an emotional mess. And while I was, I have gained even more appreciation, admiration, and respect for Kelley, who takes on such a polarizing subject. This thriller will keep you up at night, tear you apart, and somehow make you question your thoughts on school shootings.
Aftermath is a thought-provoking, unapologetic, and in-your-face story that everyone needs to read. We as a society never look past a school shooting. We don’t forget the victims, the dead, and the survivors. But we don’t think of those families who must face the fact that their loved ones murdered other students. We shun them. We forget them. We allow our teens to bully their siblings. Yet Kelley makes you question if we should. And because of that, I will never forget this story.
Skye lives in the shadow of her brother’s heinous act, and she cannot move past her pain and her fear of what people think of her and what they want to do to her. She suffers from the past. And once she’s forced to move back to her hometown, she wants nothing more than to disappear. What she fears the most is seeing Jesse, her former best friend and childhood crush, whose brother died in the shooting. But the town hasn’t healed. And soon, she discovers some residents want her gone.
I’ve never cried harder over or sympathized with a character more than Skye. Her internal battle with herself breaks my heart. She constantly fights the thoughts of mourning over her brother and condemning him. But I utterly relate to this honest and broken character. And her scenes forced me to put down the book and breathe. But she faces more than just herself though. A town and the students of the new high school will not let her forget. And the only person she can rely on is Jesse.
Jesse Mandal struggles with seeing Skye show up. And at first, he pushes her away. But with the help of his forgiving mother, he knows she’s not the one to blame. These two evolve throughout the story. And while their past and pain shape them into who they are, Jesse and Skye refuse to allow these feelings defy them. But as he discovers evidence that may prove Luca’s innocence, their strength is put to the test. The thriller aspect of Aftermath still keeps my heart racing even as I write this review. And I am still feeling the after effects of the ending. I had some inkling that it may end the way it did. However, Kelley surprises even me.
She shines a difficult yet important light on mental illness, especially PTSD and anxiety. And she beautifully shows that there is more than one side to a shooting. This character-driven masterpiece is worth the pain and tears. And I cannot recommend this book enough. Buy it, read it, and bring the Kleenex. Trust me when I say that you’ll need it.