Hello Readers! I’m beyond excited to host today’s stop for Jennifer Mathieu’s third novel, Afterward, a YA novel centered around a kidnapped boy and a sister of an abducted boy trying to find answers to help her autistic brother after both are released from their hostage situation. I was fortunate enough to read a copy of the ARC, and I loved the story! Our stop today is hosting an interview with Jennifer herself! Enjoy!
Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu
Published by Roaring Brook Press on September 20th 2016
Source: Publisher, ALA
Buy on Amazon
When Caroline's little brother is kidnapped, his subsequent rescue leads to the discovery of Ethan, a teenager who has been living with the kidnapper since he was a young child himself. In the aftermath, Caroline can't help but wonder what Ethan knows about everything that happened to her brother, who is not readjusting well to life at home. And although Ethan is desperate for a friend, he can't see Caroline without experiencing a resurgence of traumatic memories. But after the media circus surrounding the kidnappings departs from their small Texas town, both Caroline and Ethan find that they need a friend--and their best option just might be each other.
JM: I’m not a native Texan, but I’ve lived here for almost 17 years. It gets a bad reputation – sometimes justifiably so. But personally, I find Texas to be a beautifully complex place. It’s diverse and has an attitude to it that you can feel just by living here. A can-do spirit, I guess. It’s big and brash in ways that are both good and bad, and it’s become home to me. I want my books to have a sense of place and because this place is home and it’s what I’ve come to know and love, it simply makes sense to set my books here. Plus, despite the criticism the state receives, it’s been my experience that most Americans who don’t live here are curious about Texas. (Hence the cult phenomenon of Friday Night Lights!) So I enjoy playing into that a bit, too.
JM: I always worry about portraying characters and situations sensitively and with authenticity, but I am lucky in some ways because I enjoy the research element of writing. I think it comes from my former training as a journalist. I did quite a bit of research and interviewed many mental health experts who specialized in PTSD. I also sought out the advice of experts who work with children with autism and asked for sensitivity reads to make sure I was portraying Dylan with sensitivity and care. While all the research can feel overwhelming at times, by the time I sit down to write, it all feel worth it because I can write with more confidence.
JM: I wish I could play the drums! I did take piano lessons for 7 years as a child but I’ve forgotten most of it. My husband is the musician in the family. He studied it in college and can play drums, guitar, marimba, and piano. He was my music expert as I wrote Afterward and I checked with him on every reference to instrument brands or playing the instruments.
JM: First of all, I am not all that confident when it comes to writing romance. I finally tackled a romance in my fourth book (you’ll have to wait and see if I pulled it off!) but it’s not my natural instinct as a writer. I think writers who can handle romance authentically really need to be applauded because it’s tricky to do and do right. Just as importantly, I also didn’t want to make Ethan and Caroline’s story a romance because I didn’t want to give the impression that falling in love would “fix” their situations. Honestly, Ethan and Caroline are not really ready for romantic relationships, in my opinion. Right now they need a steady friendship, and that’s what they find in each other.
JM: I didn’t intend to do that, but in the end, the scenes with Ethan and his therapist, Dr. Greenberg, are the scenes that I’m the most proud of in the novel. They took tremendous work and it’s where a lot of my research paid off. When I was in high school, I read the novel Ordinary People by Judith Guest. In the novel, a teenage boy named Conrad who is dealing with the loss of his brother and his own suicide attempt finds compassion and care in his therapist Dr. Berger. I remember being taken by the scenes between Conrad and Dr. Berger. They felt authentic and not like some afterschool special version of therapy. Dr. Berger talked like a normal person but he also had tremendous insight and that helped Conrad heal. One of the best feelings I got while writing Afterward came when fellow writer and friend Cammie McGovern read an early draft and told me that the relationship between Ethan and Dr. Greenberg reminded her of Ordinary People! I hadn’t told her that had been one of my inspirations, so I was really happy she felt that way. I hope this part of Afterward can normalize therapy for teen readers and shine a light on mental health issues.
JM: I wrote in female and male POVs for Afterward and in my debut, The Truth About Alice. In Alice the boy voices came more easily and Elaine’s was the hardest to write. (Kelsie was somewhere in between.) In Afterward Ethan’s voice came more easily, too. I’m not sure why! The weird thing is that in my standalone novels, Devoted and my upcoming book Moxie, I don’t have a problem writing from a female POV. I think it all depends on the book and the story.
JM: This may be a shocking answer, but there is this part of me that believes that Ethan and Caroline will become romantically involved and have a very serious relationship that may even lead to marriage, but it won’t be for a long, long time. Like maybe not until their mid or even late twenties. I feel like they will have a long and steady friendship. They will have romantic partnerships with other people in the interim, but in the end I think they will end up together for a lifetime. But they had to be best friends first.
I think Caroline’s father will check out and will not be an active parent in the lives of his children, but I think Caroline’s mother will grow because of this and I think this will be good for Caroline and Dylan. Dylan will always have struggles, but I believe Caroline’s mom will seek out more help for him as he recovers.
I think Ethan’s family will continue to journey toward wholeness. He will always have a tricky relationship with his parents, especially with his dad, but ultimately they will have a family full of love.
Can you tell I want good things for these characters? So I predict good things! 🙂
JM: I had a hard time writing Caroline! I had just come off of writing Rachel in Devoted. Despite being incredibly bold and courageous, in more superficial ways Rachel was a real “good girl” in terms of her behavior, dress, and language. So I sort of cut loose with Caroline at first and really reveled in writing a “bad girl.” My editor had to rein me in a bit and help me figure out who she was deep down inside. I don’t know that I consider Caroline to be unlikeable so much as just flawed. The truth is, I never see any of my characters as unlikeable – including Elaine and Josh and Kelsie in The Truth About Alice! Because I always see their motivations and inner pain and how that drives so much of what they do. Caroline acts out, but she has been burdened with a lot in her young life, so I think her acting out makes sense.
JM: Oh yes, very much so. I have not read books like Room or Living Dead Girl because I can’t handle them. This is an abduction story in a sense, but it intentionally focuses on the healing after the boys are found. The flashback scenes where we see Ethan with his captor had to be in there for the story to make sense, but to be honest, I hated writing them. I found myself writing them very quickly because I wanted to get back to writing him with his parents and Caroline and Dr. Greenberg again.
JM: My publisher has final say on the cover, but they always ask for my input. I really love this cover. It does have a creepy vibe, I agree, and that might make a potential reader pick it up. But I felt the balloon and the corner of light indicate hope and recovery. It’s my first cover without a person on it, so I’m curious to see what readers will think or if that might have an impact on who picks it up. I think it’s a gorgeous and memorable cover. I came up with the tagline (Ethan went on a bike ride. Four years later he came home.) and I really like how it works with the images on the front.
I’m an English teacher, writer, wife, and mom who writes books for and about young adults. My debut novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE, was published by Roaring Brook Press on June 3, and my second book, DEVOTED, came out in June of 2015.
My third novel, AFTERWARD, about two small town Texas teenagers whose lives are linked by a terrifying crime, will be out in September 2016.
My favorite things include chocolate, pepperoni pizza, and this super hilarious 1980s sitcom about four retired women called The Golden Girls. I can basically quote every episode.
I live with my husband, son, one rescue dog, and one old kitty cat.
When it comes to what I read, I love realistic young adult fiction (duh), creative nonfiction, super scandalous tell-all memoirs and unauthorized biographies, and basically anything that hooks me on the first page.