Title: After the Worst Thing Happens
Author: Audrey Vernick
Genre: Realistic Middle Grade Fiction
Number of Pages: 224
Twelve-year-old Army (her brother’s name is Navy- her parents should seriously go to jail for child abuse) absolutely adores her dog Maybe, so naturally she’s devastated when Maybe is poisoned by chocolate Army accidently left alone and dies at the vet’s. Filled with guilt and grief, Army becomes hyperfocused on helping her next door neighbor and her autistic daughter Maddie, who tends to wander off and climb into precarious locations.
Army’s mom is emotionally detached and doesn’t know how to be there for her daughter, and the whole situation comes to a boiling point with the arrival of a devastating hurricane. Army is an endearing protagonist, kind-hearted but flawed. The characters also feel very realistic, with nuanced relationships and a storyline that is alternately sad and uplifting.
I don’t have a lot of experience with non-verbal autism but I thought the representation was on-point. It showed the difficulty of parenting a severely autistic child but not in a way that wasn’t condescending or overly negative. I found it frustrating that Maddie’s mom looked for so much help from Army.
I understood she was in a tough situation caring for a disabled child and twin babies on top of that, but Army was too young to have that much responsibility and she obviously had a hard time setting up boundaries for herself. The only criticism I have about this book is that as a dog lover, it seemed like Army recovered from Maybe’s death enough to get a new dog awfully fast. I’m definitely interested in reading future books for her author and I admired her ability to create nuanced situations and endearing characters.
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