There was the time before Tessa met Hardin, and then there’s everything after. Life will never be the same.
Tessa is a good girl with a sweet, reliable boyfriend back home. She’s got direction, ambition, and a mother who’s intent on keeping her that way. But she’s barely moved into her freshman dorm when she runs into Hardin Scott. With his tousled brown hair, cocky British accent, tattoos, and lip ring, Hardin is cute and different from what she’s used to.
But he’s also rude—to the point of cruelty, even. For all his attitude, Tessa should hate Hardin. And she does—until she finds herself alone with him in his room. Something about his dark mood grabs her, and when they kiss it ignites within her a passion she’s never known before. He’ll call her beautiful, then insist he isn’t the one for her and disappear again and again. Despite the reckless way he treats her, Tessa is compelled to dig deeper and find the real Hardin beneath all his lies. He pushes her away again and again, yet every time she pushes back, he only pulls her in deeper.
Tessa already has the perfect boyfriend. So why is she trying so hard to overcome her own hurt pride and Hardin’s prejudice about nice girls like her?
Unless…could this be love?
Okay – I know what you’re all thinking. 4 stars? What the actual heck is this student of literature thinking??? Yes, I am aware that After is basically trash but why was I so here for it?
Buckle up, this is yet another controversial review to add to the long list of questionable books that I can’t help but fall hard for. [I’m looking at you Twilight]. But, as I tackle After, maybe by the end, you’ll see that not all fluffy reads are just that.
The first time I came across After was actually a few weeks ago when the trailer popped up in my recommendations feed. Clearly I’d missed something. Heading on over to Goodreads to see what all the fuss was about, it was then that I stumbled head first into a raging fandom I wasn’t aware existed. Of course I had to pick up After for myself to see what all the hype was about.
Now to throw my own two cents in…
The question I want to throw your way is this; Is After merely another trashy YA novel featuring a problematic, abusive relationship? Or, is it a lesson in realistic, relevant issues? A closer look at the cycle of abuse and it’s effects? I guess it’s up for debate and a matter of opinion.
Let me give it to you straight – whatever side of the argument you stand on, After is not a specimen of award winning literature. I just want to get that out there before the masses emerge with their pitch forks. But that’s the best thing about reading – sometimes it’s more about the escapism. While I love a good thought provoking novel, sometimes we get to caught up in the plot development, the world building or even the literary techniques. Bottom line? It’s 100% okay to want to read just for the pure fun of it.
After was that right book for the right time. It was the book I needed in order to get the ball rolling after the truly horrendous reading month that was February. I was consumed by this book and these characters. I could barely manage to tear myself away – this book literally traveled with me everywhere. I read it in the bath, on the train and even in my lunch break. At almost 600 pages, on the surface After is packed with angst-y teen melodrama and romance with a heaping of conflict – it hits you hard with all the feels.
For those of you, like me, who were apparently living under a rock, the next thing you need to know going into After is that this started off as a fanfiction. Before hitting the shelves as published book, After was racking up millions of views on the story sharing platform Wattpad. Now, despite having read After, I actually don’t read fanfiction. I get that people hard core love it but it’s just not my cup of tea. You can imagine my shock when After practically destroyed me. I was invested so fully in this angst-ridden romance. I cried, laughed and screamed along with these characters as they fell in love, fought and made some truly questionable decisions. But you see, that’s what makes After so dang fun.
Despite having established After as a fanfic though, I wouldn’t exactly chalk it up to a light fluffy read. When you look deeper, After is actually a dark novel, dealing with some pretty intense subject matter. After explores abusive relationships and takes a close look at the dynamic of family, especially step-families and the aftermath of divorce. Okay, yes – After is primarily character driven. It has simplistic prose and not a whole lot of substance but I just don’t see After as yet another unnecessarily published fic. Had After been written slightly heavier, I think it had potential to be a deeply philosophical novel. It’s a shame, while Anna Todd touches on abuse, I wish she’d taken the time to really peal back those layers and dig deeper. I’m not about to stand here and try to convince you that it’s master story crafting but it did make me stop and think.
Another aspect I want to touch on quickly, is the subtle literary allusions and cleaver nodes to classics like Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights. Look, I don’t want to make After into something that it’s not, but one of the things I did take away was the way in which art very much imitated life. I couldn’t help but compare After’s plot and themes to that of Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Much like Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, Tess and Hardin are deeply flawed characters who share a toxic, all consuming relationship that effects those around them. Like Heathcliff, what I took away from Hardin Scott is not a sexy, romantic hero but a prime example of how an abusive childhood can lead to a toxic cycle of aggression.
While I can sympathize with both sides of this argument, for what it is, I had so much fun with After. Is it just problematic new adult trash or is it a dark lesson in abuse? I guess that’s up to you to decide. Is this what Anna Todd intended when she sat down to pen After? We don’t know but probably not. But then again, does any author really write with the intention of commenting of human nature or are they writing because they want to tell a story? We could argue these points all day but, the bottom line is this; storytelling is an art form and, like all art it’s subjective. We shouldn’t place stigma on genres and belittle these unconventional novels because I think there is still something to be taken away from them.
So, will I be rushing out to get the next installment? Yes. Yes I will. Thank you for humoring me and thank you for coming to my TED Talk. 😉