Ellie Lerner’s best friend, Lucy, was murdered in front of her eight-year-old daughter, suddenly and without premeditation. And although Ellie’s life is in Boston and Lucy’s life was in London, after her friend’s death Ellie drops everything – job, family, marriage – and travels to London to care for Ellie’s grieving husband Greg and now motherless daughter Sophie. As Ellie spends more time with Lucy’s family, in Lucy’s home, she begins to discover that perhaps Lucy was less than honest with her about a lot of things. And as she confronts the secrets Lucy left behind, she is forced to take a second look at her own life, at her own marriage, and ask herself some hard questions about what she’s really doing in London and what that means for her life.
I had heard really great things about Julie Buxbaum’s books, so I was excited when I received After You in the mail and began reading it. I have to say that I wasn’t totally enthralled with the book in the beginning. I think this is because it starts off very abruptly: Ellie is already in London, and the reader learns then about what happened to Lucy, not the other way around. I might have done better with some background on the characters before being transported into their lives. But honestly, this shaky start is mostly irrelevant because I ended up really enjoying the novel overall.
While I didn’t particularly like Ellie, I sympathized with her from the start. I could see how she made the decisions that she did – she felt like Sophie had nobody in the world to turn to in her grief, and who better to come to her rescue than her mom’s best friend, her godmother, her favorite “aunt”? In addition, it was clear that Greg needed her around – it’s obvious to the reader that had Ellie not been there, Sophie would have been very alone and probably hungry from Greg’s lack of ability to take care of himself, much less his daughter. So Ellie being in London for a short period of time was a given – but the question is, how long really did she need to be there? According to her husband, not long at all. It did seem like somewhat of a selfish decision for Ellie to stay in London for as long as she did – I just didn’t understand how it is possible for someone to put life on hold for so many months. What about her job, family, marriage, and other commitments? It seemed like there was something else tying Ellie to London – maybe something she was trying to avoid back home.
After You did end up to be a very heartwarming story, though. It was sweet to see how reading The Secret Garden together really cemented the bond between Ellie and Sophie and helped Sophie deal with her grief. I loved watching Sophie grow up a little, come to terms with her mom’s death (as much as is possible for an eight-year-old), and become quite the intelligent and well-spoken little girl. I felt that the novel’s best parts were in the last 100 pages. This was when things really came together for me, when I really understood and cared about the characters, and because of that I loved where Buxbaum took them towards the end. I loved the resolution to everything and the way that, although things were not perfect, it certainly felt like they were going to get through the hurdles to come after the book’s end.
This novel is a sweet story that touches on some extremely important subjects. After You sits firmly in the genre of women’s fiction, the writing is smart and the characters are believable, and for the most part, likeable. I definitely shed a few tears over this one, which for me is the mark of a good book. Any fan of women’s fiction, chick lit, or even “softer” general fiction should definitely pick up After You.