Not After Everything
Tyler starts out as exactly the kind of uber macho, woman-disrespecting punk no girl wants anything to do with but is still bafflingly popular thanks to his stellar skills as a running back. His head is a horrid place to be because of his anger and self-hatred, but he does eventually start dealing with his issues thanks in part to his therapist. (Hooray for therapy and general mental health treatment being shown positively!) His road to becoming a better person is a long one readers may not be sure is worth sticking with the novel for, but he does get better.
What Left Me Wanting:
Well, somewhat better. Tyler’s misogyny never seems to change and the way he sees women is never subverted or challenged. He simply finds an exception in his love interest Jordyn and stops thinking about other women period. His point of view is clearly unreliable due to his grief, but even when you strip away his loaded descriptions of girls sneering, cooing, etc. and boil them down to more objective words and actions, the way they are presented is still negative, especially in the case of Tyler’s mean girl cheerleader girlfriend Sheila.
There are scenes of Sheila trying to be there for Tyler and help him, but you won’t remember those scenes while she terrorizes Jordyn for being near Tyler. He doesn’t acquire any positive figures either; Jordyn shouldn’t have to be the support beam his mom was for him before her suicide and Jordyn’s mom lacks the characterization and closeness needed. Books about/aimed at boys especially need positive portrayals and well-written characterization of women to counteract what they’re learning from basically all other fronts.
Not After Everything also has the misfortune of being unmemorable. It hasn’t been that long since I read the book and I had to look up character names just to talk about it! There’s a lot of painful stuff in here: child abuse, animal abuse, suicide, bullying,… Levy writes it well, but Tyler’s trials seem like too much at times, especially during the scene in which Sheila corners Jordyn and pulls up Jordyn’s shirt to reveal the girl’s bra to the gathered crowd. With this much pain and so little light, readers may creative distractions for themselves so they don’t have to read more.
If you like darkness, pain, and male narrators in your contemporary YA, Levy will give you what you want in spaces. She never shies away from Tyler’s difficult home and inner lives, creating a book that will resonate with teens in similar situations. Mental preparation is almost necessary, but Not After Everything remains worth reading.
This book was so hard to read. There were many violent scenes that had me flinching and so tense while reading, many scenes that had me in tears, many scenes that had me wanting to strangle Tyler’s father. It was real and gritty but also touching and hopeful. It was a book that I just couldn’t put down.
Tyler was a great narrator. He made me feel for him. There were many times when my chest was tight and I was holding my breath because I was so scared for him and what he was going through just shouldn’t happen. It was hard to see him pull away from his friends and hobbies he liked because he didn’t want anyone to know his secret. He could be a jerk to people but it was to push them away, to protect himself, and that just made it hurt more. His growth from self-protecting jerk to caring, vulnerable Tyler was slow and subtle and absolutely believable.
The character interactions were great. I loved the banter between Tyler and Jordyn and how it grew into something more. It started with tense snark but as they got to know each other and accept they had to work together, it developed into something more playful and flirty, and eventually into something supportive. I liked the interactions between Tyler and his former best friend Marcus as well. Marcus obviously still cared about Tyler, and Tyler about Marcus, but the tragedy changed Tyler and neither boy really knew how to react to the change in their dynamic. It was sad that a close friendship could come apart but I thought it was realistic. Same with Tyler and his girlfriend Sheila.
The pacing of the book was absolutely fantastic. There was never a spot where I had time to think ‘this seems like a good time to stop because it’s 2 am’. I had to know what was going to happen next. I was entranced by it. I didn’t even know it was 2 am until the book was over because the world did not exist outside of reading time.
I could say a whole lot more but I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll leave things with: loved it!