c.2019, Bloomsbury Children’s Books
$17.99 ($23.99 Canada)
199 pages

Two halves of a whole.

That’s what Grandma calls you and your best friend. Two peas in a pod. Two sides of a coin, because you’re always together, thick as thieves, she says. You’re never far apart but, as in the new book “The Afterwards” by A.F. Harrold, what would you do for your BFF?

For as long as December and her father, Harry, have lived in their small neighborhood, Ember has been absolute best friends with Happiness, who lives next door.

Each day, the girls walk together to school and they sit side by side in Miss Short’s class. They do all their projects together and share lunches and laugh at the same things. Ember couldn’t imagine life without Ness.

And then one day, she had to.

One afternoon, when Ember had plans and couldn’t go to the park, Ness went by herself and she fell off a swing, hit her head and died.

That made Ember’s stomach feel loop-de-loopy. It wasn’t the first time she’d had a brush with that sort of thing — her Mum died when Ember was very young — but Ness being gone just wasn’t right. Even when Harry said that Uncle Graham’s dog, Betty, was hit by a car, Ember couldn’t think of anyone but Ness.

She was still thinking about Ness and how they walked home every afternoon together, when Uncle Graham came to meet Ember after school one day. That was odd but even odder when Uncle Graham took Ember around the block from his house and through a garden where everything was black and white, except Ember and a big lady in a red floral dress who seemed to do a trade with Uncle Graham. He left the garden with a black-and-white Betty, and then Ember saw Ness!

But Ness was black and white, too, like an old movie, and she was sad. Ember wasn’t sure what was going on, exactly, but she knew one thing: she was getting out of that garden, but not without her friend …

“The Afterwards” is one of those books that kids will love for its story of friendship and its poke at the dark. For an adult, though, this book is devastating.

Indeed, author A.F. Harrold has a way of taking subjects that grown-ups know all too well but that we’ve forgotten, whether accidentally or purposely, and he forces us to look at those childhood pricks and pains again. Yes, this is a kids’ novel and that’s obvious in many ways, but it’s also a shrewd story for grown-ups. Death, in this book, seems to be used as a passage, both literal and metaphoric as related to childhood, and Harrold lets his fiercely loyal heroine deal with it in a way that seems perfect, if you’re 10.

If you’re not — ugh, knife to heart.

But don’t let that be a deterrent to giving this book to your 8- to 13-year-old. It might be so very sad, but “The Afterwards” is also funny and fun in its reminders of how BFFs are positively essential. Borrow it back, bring tissues, you’ll both love it a whole lot.

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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