I read After the Moment by Garret Freymann-Weyr in one sitting. It was a quick read for me because a) I was eager to know what was going to happen and b) Freymann-Weyr's writing style also hooked me. The advanced copy came in a tidy little package, a bit wider than a mass market paperback, just the right size to covet and hold. After the Moment begins with a brief prologue in which Leigh Hunter encounters Maia Morland, the girl he loved and lost in high school. It's clear from the very first page that something terrible happened, something that changed Leigh forever, though only hints are given.
"Their love affair, which he had hoped would follow the happy narrative of a romance, had come to an end in high school. A fairly messy end, Leigh thought. The kind of mess that can only be created by lawyers, parents, and threatened charges of criminal negligence.
Of course he could never forget her, and no doubt dreamed of her, even when awake. He had probably looked for her in every girl he'd tried to love since. But the fact was, even now, with Maia across the room, all Leigh could focus on was an image of her socks. Of blood seeping into her socks, and having that same blood all over his hands." (Page 1, ARC)
Doesn't that make you want to read further? I'm a bit hesitant to say more, because one of the things that I liked about the book was the way that it confounded my expectations. So let's just say that After the Moment is about falling in love, making mistakes, and the way that sometimes, love isn't enough. It's also about families, not necessarily conventional ones, and about trying to do the right thing, even when it's hard.
Leigh is a fabulous character, likeable yet flawed, bright yet realistically clueless, popular but still sensitive. He doesn't seem like someone who would be involved with criminal negligence or blood seeping into socks. In fact, the first thing that we learn about Leigh after the prologue (when the time period of the book goes back to Leigh's junior year in high school), is that he's willing to travel from New York to Washington on no notice to comfort his younger stepsister, after her father dies. Leigh is a kid whose mother worries that he puts other people's needs to much ahead of his own. He's a kid who feels guilty about the soldiers dying in Iraq, and even feels vaguely guilty about his own good fortune. (He reminds me a bit of Ethan Embree's character in Can't Hardly Wait, actually.)
The other characters are well-drawn, too, although we don't get to know with the same immediacy that we do Leigh. His stepsister Millie is delightful, and quirky enough to be plausible in her own right (she reads romance novels, and teaches her dog tricks). Leigh's father is withdrawn to the point that he seems to be somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum (though this isn't spelled out). Maia is complex and damaged, with a variety of serious disorders. The most stable person in her family is in prison. After the Moment explores Leigh's relationships with these other characters. However, I think even more than that, it explores the ways that the characters each influence one another. For example, Leigh is if anything overly empathetic to others, in response to his father's social awkwardness.
Freymann-Weyr's prose is poetic and insightful. For example:
"He sometimes worried that he'd be one of those people who drifts through life, selling advertising space in a trade journal or something equally sad. He saw himself as forever wanting to figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up." (Page 21, ARC)
"Her pleasure, her gratitude, and her glimmer of happiness brought to her face, to him, and to the surroundings a light that memory would never diminish." (Page 98, ARC)
The author has a gift for writing about serious issues, without making the book feel heavy. I think that After the Moment would be a good pick for reluctant teen readers, boys or girls. For me, as a woman reading this book, the central tension that kept me turning the pages was wondering how such a clearly "nice" boy was going to mess everything up. I also appreciated the nuanced male teen perspective on love and dating (though I would be interested to hear a teen boy's perspective on Leigh). I have to admit that I'm not sure boys will pick up this book, with it's pastel cover and picture of a girl. And that's too bad, because I think that some of them they would really enjoy it. My recommendation for distributing this book is to get people to read the first page, and see if they can stop reading after that. I know I couldn't.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Publication Date: May 18, 2009
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Sarah Miller. See also my review of Garret's Stay with Me. And I do agree with Colleen Mondor that this isn't the best cover choice for the book.
Author Interviews: Bildungsroman, Teen Book Review
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.