Title: After the Fall
Author: Kate Hart
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
About: Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt…and his slacker brother, Andrew. Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens. He doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing. But Raychel doesn't want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn’t really get it… and he’d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother. The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up – and which ones are worth putting back together.
I feel like it's really hard to talk about this book without talking about the back half of it, but I don't want to spoil anything so I'm going to try my best. The summary above feels a little complicated to me for some reason. Raychel's best friend Matt is her greatest support system. Her mom's not around much, her dad's not in the picture, and over the years she's come to adopt Matt's family as her own. Complicating things are Raychel's all caps REPUTATION (she only hooks up with college guys), her assault at the hands of a fellow classmate, Matt's secret feelings for her, and her burgeoning relationship with Matt's little brother, Andrew.
Books about assault are so, so complicated. No one person reads them the same way, but there are always strong feelings about them. I thought the way the assault was handled in After the Fall was good. Raychel's confusing feelings about what Carson did to her were heartbreakingly realistic. This story makes some good points about consent, but they feel very specifically inserted into the story. Like, 'this is how we as a society should feel so let's have an Adult™ impart these views to the victim.'
Most of my problems with this book don't actually stem from the assault storyline, they stem from the characters. Matt is THE WORST.
Not you Matty, ILU
Like, Captain Friendzone. Just because you want her doesn't make her yours (and he kept referring to her as 'my girl.' Bleck). It feels like he's been waiting out all these years of friendship just so he can finally bang her. GROSS. That's not friendship, you're creepy and an asshole. I don't really feel any sympathy for him in this situation. And having Raychel say that he makes her feel safe and she needs someone that she knows doesn't just want her around so she'll sleep with him makes it feel even ickier when he's cataloging every touch. Near the end of the book he seems to make some progress with his therapist regarding the friendzone stuff, and if that was the point of his character, okay I guess? I just feel like you're supposed to agree with him the whole time and it feels super yucky.
Good for Raychel for starting something up with Andrew. He doesn't sit there and tell her what she should be doing or put her on a pedestal or lie in wait until she'll finally sleep with him. Andrew and Raychel have stuff in common. They enjoy each other's company and - oh wait - they actually made out. Bless. Andrew is my favorite character in this whole shit show. He's super chill. He drinks, smokes, and plays a lot of video games, but isn't presented as a burnout. He's also trying to improve his grades so he can get into a good college and he respects Raychel (which is more than I can say for his brother).
I liked Raychel's relationship with her mom. It wasn't your typical low income mom makes bad choices, chooses bad boyfriends over kid, etc etc. I like that it was complicated. Her mom does make bad monetary choices, but she's human and is trying. She's (understandably) jealous of the Richardson's relationship with her daughter. It's nice to see the pair grow a little bit closer over the course of the story.
After the Fall wasn't a winner for me. There were things I liked, namely the important distinctions raised about consent, Andrew as a whole, and Raychel's relationship with her mother. There were also things I couldn't get over. Matt is one of the most obnoxious characters I've come across in a long time. His friendzoned feelings were gross, especially because of what happened to Raychel. Unfortunately he really dragged the story down for me and there was no coming back.