After You by Julie Buxbaum
Updated: Aug 20, 2019
After You by Julie Buxbaum is the story of two women, Ellie and Lucy, who grew up together in Massachusetts and have been best friends all their lives. When Ellie gets the call that Lucy has been brutally murdered while walking her daughter Sophie to school, she drops her life in the US – including her husband – and moves to London to take care of her goddaughter Sophie and Lucy’s grief-stricken husband Greg.
But it’s not a simple story of recovering from horrific tragedy. As Ellie’s marriage hangs by a thread, she learns something about her best friend that she never thought possible – the one thing, as Lucy predicted before she died, that she knew Ellie would never understand or be able to forgive. In the midst of this shock, Ellie’s husband pays a surprise visit from the United States, and the consequences are far-reaching and create a twist in the tale that packs quite an emotional punch.
As in her first novel, Julie Buxbaum shows that her great strengths are plot – she just spins a great yarn – and characterization. Every character in After You feels like someone you know and care about. The author has said in interviews that she believes her characters really exist in some kind of parallel universe, and that they’re out there living their lives even when she’s not writing about them. This makes sense when you consider that two key characters in this novel are, in a way, ghosts – although Lucy dies before the novel begins, she is there on nearly every page, as the other characters talk about her, cry over her, and learn her secrets.
The other character is also one that we never meet directly, and he’s just as important – all I’m going to say is that his name is Oliver, and he’s very small.
An element of the story that I found especially lovely is the author’s referencing of one of the classics of children’s literature, The Secret Garden. This is what Ellie and Sophie read together as the little girl tries to recover from the trauma of witnessing what happened to her mum, and a visit to the real-life garden that inspired that book becomes the setting for a stunning realization by Ellie that sets the novel in a new direction.
After You is a worthy successor to Julie Buxbaum’s debut, The Opposite of Love, and if you haven’t read that, I highly recommend you check it out as well. Also worth a look is juliebuxbaum.com, where you’ll find links to interviews in which she talks about the writing process and the gamble she took in giving up law, her first career, to write full-time.
This review was previously published on Coast.co.nz.
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones
Penguin Random House