NOT AFTER EVERYTHING by Michelle Levy

Read this if you’re in the mood for:  realistic contemporary YA, character-driven, tough issues, character development

Summary: Tyler has a football scholarship to Stanford, a hot girlfriend, and a reliable army of friends to party with. Then his mom kills herself. And Tyler lets it all go. Now he needs to dodge what his dad is offering (verbal tirades and abuse) and earn what his dad isn’t (money). Tyler finds a job that crashes him into Jordyn, his former childhood friend turned angry-loner goth-girl. She brings Tyler an unexpected reprieve from the never-ending pity party his life has become. How could he not fall for her? But with his dad more brutally unpredictable than ever, Tyler knows he can’t risk bringing Jordyn too deeply into the chaos. So when violence rocks his world again, will it be Jordyn who shows him the way to a hopeful future? Or after everything, will Tyler have to find it in himself?

Read this if you like:
JOYRIDE by Anna Banks (link goes to our recommendation)
Like JOYRIDE, this book has a very realistic view of poverty and how much of a burden it can be on teenagers who have to provide for their own basic needs or starve. Carly has dealt with this burden for three years, but it's new to Tyler.

ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor's home life is filled with abuse, and both she and Tyler are experts at hiding from their abusive fathers (stepfather, in Eleanor's case). Rowell and Levy write these scenes in a way that makes the reader feel the dread of the character and the desperation to escape. Like Jordyn, Park is an outsider who slowly realizes the abusive situation and tries to help.

The Rec: This book deals with some pretty heavy stuff. Though he used to be a popular golden boy at school, Tyler's home life was far from perfect. But now Tyler is on his own — his mother committed suicide and his violent, alcoholic dad hates him and takes away all financial support. He's seeing a therapist but isn't telling him much of anything. His girlfriend is using him as a pity prop to gain popularity, and his friends don't know how to talk to him after he quits football so he can keep a job and afford things like toilet paper and ramen — not that he's told them why he had to quit or anything. It's a pretty bleak existence, and Tyler's only solace is in his dog and the locked bedroom door that separates him from his father's abuse.

His new job at a photography studio forces him to reconnect with the studio owner's daughter, a childhood friend named Jordyn, who's all goth and bristly and is the only person that doesn't treat him with pity. This job becomes Tyler's beacon. It gives him hope and people who care for him and an example of a family that's imperfect but still loving, and Tyler's just trying to hang on through his senior year until he turns 18, but his home situation becomes increasingly violent and unpredictable.

This is definitely upper YA, and it has sex and cursing — but none of it is gratuitous, and it's true to Tyler's character. I especially loved that there's zero slut shaming for casual sex, but the amazingness of being intimate with someone you actually care about is shown clearly. Tyler and Jordyn's romance develops slowly, and I loved how much they cared about one another. I also adored Tyler's relationship with his therapist and how that developed throughout the story — they were some of my favorite scenes.

I wondered how Levy was going to end Tyler's story, because a perfectly wrapped ending with a bow wasn't going to work, as much as I wanted it for Tyler. Without spoilers, I'll just say that I found the ending very satisfying.

The Caveat: The abuse Tyler suffers at the hands of his father is brutal, scary, and very visceral. It might be a little too intense for some readers, but this type of story is important to tell, and I feel like the discomfort of reading the scenes is well worth it.

You should read this because: NOT AFTER EVERYTHING is a compelling book about someone trying to survive the unimaginable, but despite the intense subject material, it manages to be hopeful.

Read this book!
NOT AFTER EVERYTHING by Michelle Levy (Dial, August 2015)
Indiebound / B&N

Recommendation by: Donna