CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 30. . . .April 6, 2018
If, after reading the opening two paragraphs of the Prologue, you found yourself asking, “Why would she never again be that girl, and what happened that day?”, then Armstrong has likely hooked another reader, and she won’t release you until the end of p. 369.
Aftermath is part mystery, part romance and part thriller. “That girl” is Skye Gilchrist who comes from a home parented by an increasingly absent father and a mother spiraling into a deep depression. The bright spots in Skye’s life are her 16-year-old brother Luka and her long-time school pal, now romantic interest, Jesse Mandal. However, before the day is over, both Luka and Jesse will be gone from Skye’s life, one permanently and the other likely forever. On that day, a shooting occurred at Luka’s high school, and among the six dead are Jesse’s older brother, Jamil, and Luka, with Luka being accused of being one of the three shooters, an accusation supported by the testimony of the surviving shooter.
According to the online version of the Cambridge English Dictionary, aftermath is defined as “the consequences or aftereffects of a significant unpleasant event.” The immediate consequence for Skye, who can’t believe that her beloved brother was a killer, was her being almost immediately whisked away from Riverside to live with her grandmother in another city. Longer term consequences included Skye’s guilt by association “past” following her, though lessening in severity after a couple of years. As Aftermath reopens following the Prologue, three years have elapsed, and Skye is on her way back to Riverside to live in a condo with her Aunt Mae. With Skye’s grandmother having suffered a stroke, her mother in a deep depression and her father remarried, Skye’s choices are limited to Aunt Mae in Riverside or placement by family services.
Though the high school in which the killings had occurred has been decommissioned, Skye knows that whichever of the community’s two other high school she attends, she will come face to face with students having direct or indirect connections to the victims of the shooting, and, in particular, she is concerned about encountering Jesse as the two have had no communication since that horrible day. Skye’s appearance in the school initially gets a mixed reaction, but, as the days and weeks pass, an increasing number of negative incidents directed at Skye occur, events which suggest that someone (or ones) doesn’t/don’t want Skye back in the community, and so begins the book’s mystery component: Who is concerned by Skye’s reappearance and why? The story’s romance portion, of course, involves Jesse, and it is enhanced by the fact that he gets to narrate his own chapters, a stylistic device which allows readers to observe how miscommunication causes the pair to misread each others actions. Jesse eventually joins Skye in trying to identify her anonymous foe(s), and their amateur sleuthing leads them into the thriller portion of the novel wherein their lives become at risk.
Armstrong populates Aftermath with a strong cast of secondary characters, and she provides many of them with motives for wanting to see Skye once again leave Riverside. As Aftermath is a mystery-thriller, readers won’t be able to “solve” the book’s mystery aspect, and the identity/identities of the perpetrator(s) should come as a surprise.
An engaging read from beginning to end!
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.