Publication date: 31 December 2013
This novel is hot off the press having just been released and available in bookstores from this week. I received an ARC for review (at my request) and I would like to thank the author and publisher for the opportunity.
The story begins at the end with the protagonist, Emma, reflecting on the events that occurred at a party that ended with her friend, Siobhan, falling from the roof of a building. Did she jump or was she pushed? One thing is certain, Emma is convinced that she is responsible for killing her best friend.
Sixteen-year-old French Canadian born Emma has lived around different parts of the USA most of her life and has just moved to Los Angeles with her father, who received a job opportunity there. Emma's mother died when she was young and she is an only child. Her father is over-protective and has high expectations of her. He wants her to do well academically and even more he wants to make sure she does not become a rebellious teenager that puts herself at risk of the dangers teenagers can be exposed to. This seems to be a major concern of his and so his approach to parenting is strict and rigid.
He enrolls her at an elite preparatory school where most of the pupils come from extremely wealthy backgrounds and most of whom are extremely mean. The girls in particular seem to fit the typical rich-bitch profile, i.e., attractive, slim, self-absorbed and spoiled-rotten. They regard Emma as if she were something the cat dragged in and she would be a social outcast if not for Siobhan (also an outcast), who takes her under her wing. The two of them become united in what becomes a 'them' and 'us' type of situation. Siobhan is a bit on the wild side and is determined to
lead Emma astray.
Emma meets Dylan, a classmate who she is attracted to. It appears as though he may be drawn to her too, as he takes the time to speak to her at every opportunity. Dylan is a serial truant and Emma agrees to share her class notes with him. As such they become acquaintances and Emma's affection for him increases. For some reason, she is reluctant to tell Siobhan about her feelings for Dylan.
Siobhan's bad influence gets Emma in constant trouble with her dad and his reaction is to restrict her freedom more and more. Emma is overly conscious of the pressure to live up to his expectations and not disappoint him, while Siobhan's influence causes her to behave in ways that are the complete
opposite. She is caught in the middle of the two extremes and adopts a double persona: Emma the Good and Emma the Bad.
Things start to unravel when Siobhan discovers that Emma has a thing for Dylan. It would seem she does not want to share her friend with anyone. She convinces Emma to make a series of pacts that include a rebellious 'to do' list, attendance at Afterparty at the end of the academic year and one last pact for a grand finale...
If my synopsis makes this novel seem like a typical contemporary novel for teenagers I can assure you it is not. There is a lot that I have left out but, suffice to say, this reads like a cross-over of genres into psychological thriller territory - a sort of YA Gone Girl.
The writing is smart and perceptive and I am sure there are many out there who will be able to relate to much of what occurs in this book, be they YAs with the experiences still current or adults looking back on past experiences.
Redisch Stampler does that thing I like; she does not over-explain things. A lot is left unsaid and it is up to the reader to think about the text (and context) and fill in the blanks. A simple example being the part about Emma taking notes in class for Dylan (clearly he did not need them).
The author also demonstrates in this novel the way individuals perceive themselves differently from the way others do. Emma is convinced that she is bad (that her moral compass is warped), but as much as she tried to convince me of this, I have to disagree. It seemed to me her behaviour was the result of (1) her father who (ironically is a psychiatrist) not dealing with his own 'issues' and projecting them on his daughter, and (2) reacting to her emotionally screwed-up friend, to whom she becomes devoted. That said, Emma is responsible for her bad choices and has to deal with the consequences of those choices. Speaking of which, I can guarantee that you will become annoyed and frustrated with the key characters as they are human and at times behave in ways that make you want to shout at them. In most cases, however, their behaviour is completely understandable, if not justified. I say most cases because I did struggle to understand why a smart guy like Dylan allows himself to be manipulated not once but twice.
For reasons mentioned above, I believe this one will be like Marmite (readers will either love it or will take issue with it since, a lot of the time, characters are either being nasty or they are victims of nasty behaviour.) It certainly does not portray the environment of the elite private school, or the rich people and their children who attend them, in a positive light. It got me thinking about the disparity between wealth and happiness.
I found it to be a pager-turner of a novel and I stayed up until the early hours reading it (I simply could not put it down).
(As you probably deduced), I also found it thought-provoking. I found myself drawing parallels with Catcher in the Rye and also Where'd You Go, Bernadette - both favourites of mine. All of these novels examine the high end of social class and wealth in a similar way. Also, they are all told from the point of view of teenagers but with writing sophisticated enough to target teenage and adult readers alike.
Perhaps it is too early for me to call Afterparty one of my favourites for 2014, but if I am to read many more as good as this what an excellent year for reading it will be.