After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

41611612Lynn: As a dedicated escapist reader I routinely run the other way from “disease” books. I made an exception for Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie (Scholastic 2005), Sonnenblick’s wonderful book about Steven Alper, his tumultuous 8th grade year and his little brother Jeffrey’s battle with leukemia. That exemption continues for After Ever After (Scholastic 2010), the companion book featuring Jeffrey, his cancer in remission, now starting his own 8th grade year. Sonnenblick does something really original here. Usually books about cancer take the reader right up to the crisis point where the protagonist lives or dies and the book ends. This courageous book presents life AFTER cancer with an eye-opening look at the impact of the treatments on young bodies. As a result of his treatments, Jeffrey has some brain damage – “slow processing as a late effect” and nerve damage resulting in a limp. Good at math before cancer, Jeffrey struggles with math now, something that really frustrates his father who thinks Jeffrey just isn’t working hard enough. His best friend Tad, also a cancer survivor, has even more treatment damage and is in a wheelchair. When a new state law mandates passage of a math standardized test to enter high school, Jeffrey is in a panic. He’s convinced he’ll be in 8th grade forever and lose any chance with the lovely new girl in his life. His friend Tad offers a pact. He’ll mentor Jeffrey in math and Jeffrey will help him regain enough strength in his legs to walk across the stage at graduation. It’s a tough challenge and just one of the many that Jeffrey will have to conquer by year’s end.

The strengths that made me love Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie are in  this book too. Sonnenblick examines difficult subjects including life-threatening disease, disabilities, self-doubt and grief but those issues are delivered along with a universal coming-of-age story. Jeffrey’s humorous self-deprecating voice is endearingly authentic and it is his struggle to understand his strengths as well as his weaknesses that is central focus. This is one disease book that I’d like to read again!

Cindy: I missed reading Drums, Girls… when it published but I will definitely go back to read it now! This one stands alone nicely, although, like me, readers will want to find the first book asap. I agree with Lynn that this book offers a rare look at the after-effects of cancer treatment.  Besides the physiological changes, there’s the change that comes from classmates who are eager to rally around a cause and hold pancake supper fundraisers and send cards to the hospital, but whose enthusiasm and interest wanes when the initial crisis is over. And then there’s the lingering fear of the cancer’s return that haunts both the survivors and those who love them.

On another note, teens who feel bludgeoned with standardized tests (and their teachers who are mandated to give them) will appreciate all the digs at this brain-numbing practice. Jeffrey’s English teacher responds to a student’s question about whether the new test would change her teaching: “Miss Palma’s nostrils flared and she siad, ‘I have always taught my students to read well and write well. Now, why in the world would I let some idiotic test interfere with that?'” And then she assigns them the day’s journal topic: “Write about a time you were pressured to do something with which you didn’t agree.” 😉

The sweet romance between Jeffrey and Lindsey seemed a tad improbable, but it was a happy addition to the story. As I’ve said before, I love books that make me laugh and cry, and this one hits the mark. Now I need to go put my copy on the Sob-O-Meter Display! Sob!



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

2 Comments on "After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick"

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  1.' christina says:

    I loved Drums… and we actually had the whole sixth grade in my school read it. I’m excited to see that there is a companion to it. I must get my hands on it.

  2.' Melody says:

    Wow i read the book before this one and jeffrey has cancer and his brother is in 8th i definetly want to read this book.

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