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After You: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)
by Julie Buxbaum

Published: 2010-06-01
Paperback : 368 pages
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When tragedy strikes across the ocean, Ellie Lerner drops everything--her marriage, her job, her life in the Boston suburbs--to travel to London and pick up the pieces of her best friend Lucy's life. While Lucy's husband, Greg, retreats into himself, his and Lucy's eight-year-old ...
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Introduction

When tragedy strikes across the ocean, Ellie Lerner drops everything--her marriage, her job, her life in the Boston suburbs--to travel to London and pick up the pieces of her best friend Lucy's life. While Lucy's husband, Greg, retreats into himself, his and Lucy's eight-year-old daughter, Sophie, has simply stopped speaking. Desperate to help Sophie, Ellie turns to a book that gave her comfort as a child, The Secret Garden. As its story of hurt, magic, and healing blooms around them, so, too, do Lucy's secrets--some big, some small. Peeling back the layers of her friend's life, Ellie is forced to confront her own as well: the marriage she left behind, the loss she'd hoped to escape. And suddenly Ellie's carefully constructed existence is spinning out of control in a chain of events that will transform her life--and the lives of those around her--forever.

Book Description
The complexities of a friendship. The unexplored doubts of a marriage. And the redemptive power of literature... Julie Buxbaum, the acclaimed author of The Opposite of Love, delivers a haunting, gloriously written novel about love, family, and the secrets we hide from each other--and ourselves.

It happened on a tree-lined street in Notting Hill to a woman who seemed to have the perfect life. Ellie Lerner's best friend, Lucy, was murdered in front of her young daughter. And, as best friends do, Ellie dropped everything--her marriage, her job, her life in the Boston suburbs--to travel to London and pick up the pieces of Lucy's life. While Lucy's husband, Greg, copes with his grief by retreating into himself, eight-year-old Sophie has simply stopped speaking.

Desperate to help Sophie, Ellie turns to a book that gave her comfort as a child, The Secret Garden. As the two spend hours exploring the novel's winding passageways, its story of hurt, magic, and healing blooms around them. But so, too, do Lucy's secrets--some big, some small--secrets Lucy kept hidden, even from her best friend. Over a summer in London, as Ellie peels back the layers of her friend's life, she's forced to confront her own as well: the marriage she left behind, the loss she?d hoped to escape. And suddenly Ellie's carefully constructed existence is spinning out of control in a chain of events that will transform her life--and those around her--forever. A novel that will resonate in the heart of anyone who's had a best friend, a love lost, or a past full of regrets, After You proves once again the unique and compelling talent of Julie Buxbaum.


Julie Buxbaum on After You

After You may be aimed at adult readers, but oddly enough, it sprang from a lifelong obsession with a singular children's classic: The Secret Garden. It seems to me that some kids? books begin with ?Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom? and some begin instead with a spoiled little girl orphaned by a cholera epidemic. I happen to like the latter kind. Frances Hodgson Burnett in her masterpiece, The Secret Garden, is not afraid of illness, or indifferent uncles, or even mean little girls. And yet, despite the darkness at its edges, her work manages to capture more magic and lightness than all of those other ?once upon a time? and ?they all lived happily ever after? books combined. Her characters? happiness is always hard-fought, and well-earned, and best of all, she introduces us to places and people who feel real--the at once menacing and alive moors of England, the country's spectacular gardens, a young girl feeling alone and lost in the world in the wake of tragedy.

But I realize I am supposed to only talk about my second novel, After You, here. And yet, I can?t seem to talk about After You without first paying tribute to Frances Hodgson Burnett, because After You is, among many other things, a love letter to The Secret Garden. In After You, when Ellie, my main character, discovers her best friend Lucy has unexpectedly died, she drops her own life in the Boston suburbs to move to London to help take care of Lucy's eight-year-old daughter. Overwhelmed by little Sophie's grief, Ellie turns to the children's classic for comfort, an opportunity for them to escape the real world at a time when they need to most. Together, Ellie and Sophie get lost in Burnett's magical language, and allow themselves the pleasure and the relief (and yes, the therapy too) that only reading can sometimes bring.

And so like The Secret Garden, After You, doesn?t begin with ?Once upon a time,? and nor does it end with ?happily ever after.? Yet, like the Burnett classic, it is at heart a happy book, one where we get to watch loves lost and gained, see our deepest selves discovered, experience the power of redemption, and understand the magic that can be found in turning the pages forward. To be honest, sometimes, I don?t feel like spending my afternoon in a faraway kingdom; I?d much rather rediscover the simple pleasure of reading in the garden. --Julie Buxbaum

(Photo © Indy Flore)

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

EXCERPT
CHAPTER 1
Let’s pretend that things are different. That in the last couple of days, I haven’t become the kind of person who resorts to wishing on eyelashes, first stars of the night, and the ridiculous 11:11, both a.m. and p.m., in earnest and with my eyes closed. That Lucy and her family haven’t transformed into tabloid stars with a full picture on the cover of the Daily Mail with the headline Notting Hill Murdergate!, and the lead story on the BBC evening news. Let’s pretend that I am home, on the right side of the Atlantic, the one where I understand the English language, and that tomorrow will be just like early last week, or the week before that one, when the days were indistinguishable. That it’s not necessary to resort to memories—to a time before—when I think of Lucy. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the author:

1. Do you think we lose parts of ourselves when we lose those closest to us? Ellie seems to believe that Lucy truly knew and understood her, but do you think that Ellie ever really knew Lucy? Can we ever know the people we love the most?

2. Ellie talks about having two vows in direct conflict: her wedding vows and her commitment to being Sophie’s godmother. Her relationships with both Phillip and Sophie change dramatically through the course of novel. Do you think in the end she keeps or betrays those vows?

3. Why is Ellie so willing to leave her own life in Boston to pick up the pieces Lucy has left behind? Would you do the same thing for your best friend? Ellie claims she is only “doing the right thing,” but Phillip thinks that even Lucy wasn’t selfish enough to expect Ellie to drop everything and move to London. Who do you sympathize with more?

4. Ellie talks a lot about the various drafts of Lucy and describes her recollections of her best friend as “still and constant, memories an unfolded map, like the timeline in Sophie’s history textbook.” What does she mean here? Will her memories stay like that? What about Sophie’s memories of her mother?

5. Sophie and Ellie turn to the children’s classic The Secret Garden for comfort throughout the novel. Why do you think they are soothed by this particular book? Why do both want to play Mary when they playact the novel?

6. Why is the book titled After You? Who does the “You” refer to?

7. Ellie often uses words to suggest that they are all “acting” or “pretending” that things are normal to get through the days. Is this a common coping mechanism in the wake of loss?

8. Ellie, Lucy, and Jane all seem to be, at various times, women on the run. What are they each running from? What are they each most afraid of ?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from author Julie Buxbaum:

After You was my way of exploring a question that has long fascinated me: how well do we really know the people we love? How strange that the internal lives of our friends and partners, no matter how much time we spend with them, remain essentially opaque! With After You, I wanted to create a unique set of circumstances where one person would get the opportunity to quite literally stand in the shoes of another. For Ellie, when she steps into her deceased friend Lucy’s world, she learns that all of her basic assumptions about her life and their friendship were wrong.

After You is also a love letter to the children’s classic The Secret Garden. Ellie and Sophie (Lucy’s eight-year old daughter) turn to the book for comfort in their time of grief; together they get lost in Burnett’s magical language, and allow themselves the pleasure, the relief (and yes, the therapy too) that reading can often bring. After You, much like The Secret Garden, is at heart a happy book, one where we get to watch loves lost and gained, experience the power of redemption and the restoration of self, and understand the magic that can only be found in turning the pages forward.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "3 1/2 Stars for After You"by zodejodie4 (see profile) 02/12/11

3 1/2 stars. As a child, The Secret Garden was one of my favorite books, so I was very easily drawn in reading the synopsis of what this book would be about. Part love letter to The Secret Garden, part... (read more)

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