I’ve almost completely stopped writing reviews on this blog.  The truth is that I don’t have as much time to read as I’d like, and when i do read I sometimes read things that are so brainless that they’re not worthy of a serious recommendation to my own readers and friends.  But last week I stumbled upon a series of books that I feel compelled to review and share.  It’s the After series by Anna Todd, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed these books.  The truth is that I can’t get them out of my head.

First of all, let me tell you a little something about myself…

  1.  I hate cliffhangers.  In fact, I despise them so vehemently that I have an almost hard and fast rule that I won’t pick a book up if I know it ends in a cliffhanger.  For the most part, I find cliffhangers to be cheap attempts by writers and publishers to make an extra buck.
  2. I never spend more than $3.99 for an e-book by a new-to-me author, and I have a really hard time spending more than that for my favorite authors.  I don’t know why because I wouldn’t hesitate to spend $20 for the same book in hardcover, but I really have to talk myself into spending more than $3.99 for an e-book.

Got that?  Those are the hard and fast truths about me.  Or they were.  Now let me tell you the facts about the After series and my complete adoration for them…

  1.  The first three books in the After series all end on cliffhangers, but it didn’t phase me for two reasons.  (1) because each book was already about 100K words, so it had to end somewhere or we’d be looking at something larger than War and Peace.  And (2) because the cliffhangers weren’t gratuitous.  They simply had to be there because there was so much more story to tell.
  2. I bought the first book as a paperback and then didn’t blink once at the $6.99 or $7.99 price tag to download the subsequent titles.  They were that good!

So what is this series all about?  The After series is a New Adult series of four books that tell the love story between a straight-laced college freshman, Tessa, and an emotionally damaged young man named Hardin who is filled with so much anger and hate for himself and the world around him that it affects his every relationship…especially his relationship with Tessa.

I won’t tell you the secrets that make this book so intriguing, but I will tell you that, in the first book, the pairing of Tessa and Hardin makes absolutely no sense; yet, as a reader, I completely bought into their relationship.  As the first book progresses, you soon understand why they make no sense, and yet they start to make complete sense together.  But Hardin is a completely unlikable main character, and that was very confusing to me.  I really wanted to like him, but I just couldn’t.  I found him emotionally abusive, narcissistic and a complete tool.  But when the first book ended, I was riveted and had to read on to the second, third and then fourth books.

Books two and three are heartbreaking as this couple just can’t get their act together.  I found myself furious at Tessa for forgiving Hardin his every transgression.  He had some redeemable qualities, and then just as I’d start to like his character,  he’d do something else reprehensible and I really wanted to punch him in the throat.

It wasn’t until the fourth book that I realized the complete brilliance of this series.  And this is where I’ll give you a tiny spoiler:  the author is brilliant!  I don’t think the reader is supposed to like Hardin…at least not until MAYBE the 4th book.  He comes with too much emotional baggage from his childhood, and it takes him forever to get his act together.  In fact, toward this end, the book actually ends about 20 years after the opening paragraphs.

This novel reminded me quite a bit of It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover, but the brilliance of it is that it explores the question of whether someone so emotionally damaged can ever overcome his demons.  Can he eventually become someone that you’d want your daughter to date? To marry?  To have children with? Having seen a relationship similar to Tessa and Hardin’s firsthand, I would’ve said it’s not possible.  Now I’m not so sure.

Anna Todd’s writing is wonderful, and her supporting characters are well-developed and likable.  There’s Tessa’s mother, whom I’m embarrassed to admit reminds me a little too much of myself with my 21 year old daughter (I’m not as bad, but I’m learning to accept boundaries); Tessa’s best friend (and Hardin’s step-brother), Landon; Hardin’s estranged father and his new wife, who want nothing more than to bring him into the fold; then the cast of outcasts that are Hardin’s friends.

A great book for me is one the makes me feel.  It makes me angry, happy, sad…any one of those qualities is a great book for me.  The After series was better than great.  It was phenomenal.  I would recommend it to all of my friends, with the understanding that there are some very graphic intimacy scenes; but the story is one that needs to be told and understood.  It’s a good read for those in emotionally toxic relationships, especially, as I think it will help them gain strength and understand the world around themselves better.  And it’s an important story for those who are emotionally “damaged,” giving hope that change comes from within.

Simply stated, I’d have to rank the After series as my best read so far of 2017.

6Note:  There is a fifth book in the series called Before.  I haven’t read it yet, but it’s my  understanding that it “explains” Hardin better to the reader.  I’ll get around to reading it soon, but for now I think I may have to move on to his step-brother, Landon’s, story in Nothing More, followed by Nothing Less.