Todd, Anna. After. 2014. New York. Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster Inc.
Tessa is starting college, and she thinks she has her life planned out. She has a perfect boyfriend, and is finally free of her domineering mother. Things take a turn when she meets her dorm roommate, Steph. Steph is a party girl with crazy hair, lots of makeup, and has no qualms about bringing guys into their room. Steph introduces Tessa to her friend Hardin. Tessa is quick to notice that while Hardin is very handsome, he’s also dark, brooding, rude, and ridicules her at every turn. Despite Tessa’s initial revulsion she soon becomes drawn to Hardin. She wants to find out what pain he’s hiding behind the bad boy exterior. As Tessa tries to reform Hardin she falls in love with him. Their relationship becomes extremely difficult, and Tessa has to decide if loving him is worth the pain.
After was very popular on the app Wattpad before it was formally published by Gallery books. The work was initially a fanfiction of the band One Direction. Formal publication has made the book much more readable, correcting Todd’s many grammatical errors, and expanding the narrative more fully. After elicits many different responses from readers. Some hail it as total garbage, and others love it to the point of craziness. Todd’s story is simple, good girl meets bad boy and tries to reform him. The reader must decide if Tessa and Hardin’s relationship is romantic or destructive.
Tessa begins the novel as a cookie cutter good girl. She doesn’t drink or party, and spends most of her time studying. She ends up at a few parties with slight peer pressure from Steph, but her presence is merely an author’s device for making sure she runs into Hardin more often. Hardin lives in a frat house despite being more of an emo rocker type. She falls in love with Hardin’s looks first, and talks about how good looking he is—in the same way that Bella Swan from Twilight obsesses over Edward Cullen’s features. Tessa grows stronger through open interactions with Hardin, and is forced to stand up for herself and express her opinions despite her ingrained politeness.
Tessa’s inner turmoil is evident in her relationships with her mother and her boyfriend, Noah. They both expect her to behave a certain way as is evidenced in their reaction when she exhibits typical first time college student behavior. From the beginning the reader will be very bored with Noah. He is a flat character inserted to make Hardin more interesting by comparison.
Hardin begins the novel as an antagonist. He’s constantly rude to Tessa, and uses her first name Theresa like an insult. The reader gains insight into Hardin’s personality from his taste in books, his behavior in literature class, and information provided by Steph. He is not monogamous, has never had a girlfriend, and angers easily. Although the author depicts him the typical bad boy reformation character, the reader expects that Tessa will provide the exception to his rule. Hardin doesn’t pressure Tessa for physical intimacy, and protects her several times from advances made by his frat brothers. Hardin has a troubled relationship with his father who is a high ranking member of the university faculty, and is engaged to the mother of Tessa’s literature classmate Landon. Hardin’s father is a recovering alcoholic. Hardin’s reasons for hating his father seem to be related to his alcoholism. Secrets revealed at the end of the novel allow more insight into Hardin, and also drop a cliffhanger which will lead into the next book.
After is explicit, but not more so than any other adult novel where the focus of the story is romance. Some reviewers called it Fifty Shades for teens, but that is quite an exaggeration. Todd depicts tender love scenes for her characters, and while the occasional expletive is uttered there is no cruelty. However, the explicit scenes are the reason that the print version of the book was placed in the adult fiction category rather than teen fiction. There are three more books in the series After We Collided, After We Fell, After Ever Happy , and one yet to be published called Before which will be from Hardin’s point of view.
Anna Todd manages to make you scream, cry, laugh, fall in love, and sit in the fetal position… Whether you have read the Wattpad version or not, After is a can’t miss book – but get ready to feel emotions that you weren’t sure that a book could bring out of you. -Fangirlish
Book Clubs or discussion groups could talk about the experience of young women at college. Girls leave the nest, and meet different types of people with opinions that differ from their parental instilled opinions. Dating someone your mother does not approve of is something many girls may experience in their lives. How do young women relate to their parents differently as adults? Tessa and Hardin’s relationship is the focus of the novel, and this could be discussed in detail. Is their relationship destructive? Is Hardin verbally abusive as some readers and reviewers say? How does one balance a busy life and a relationship?
Reviewed by Beth K.