Ellie Lerner is devastated when her best friend Lucy is murdered while walking her eight-year-old daughter Sophie to school. Ellie immediately flies from America to London, helps Lucy’s husband plan the funeral and tends to Sophie, her goddaughter who has fallen silent after witnessing her mother’s brutal death.
As she copes with the loss of her best friend, Ellie attaches herself to Sophie, clinging to the child for purpose and meaning in the wake of her best friend’s murder.
Ellie and Sophie find escape in literature, as they read a chapter of The Secret Garden each night before bed. Ellie feels about books the way some do about cooking: sharing them with others is an act of service and love. It’s the act of reading that convinces Sophie to break nearly a week of silence.
But in the process, Ellie neglects her own marriage. There’s already distance between her and Phillip, an emotional remoteness that began when their own child died in utero, and now Ellie adds physical distance to the equation.
Julie Buxbaum crafts a tale filled with the nuance of broken relationships, just as she did in her debut novel The Opposite of Love. And though her first novel was widely acclaimed, Buxbaum’s writing has clearly matured. Her characters possess emotional depth that’s evident from page one, and her storytelling is more streamlined and precise.
While The Opposite of Love danced on the edges of chick lit, After You steps toward literary fiction. It’s a promising move for a young author who sidesteps the sophomore slump.
Carla Jean Whitley writes from Birmingham, Alabama.