Love, Guilt, and the Modern American Teenager: After the Moment

This cover is a little vague, but the colour scheme is bang on

Fall is the biggest of the book seasons and I’ve been reading fiendishly. Many of the titles I’ve read of late have been adult books, and while I have enjoyed them (I am an adult reader, afterall, with a taste for lovely language and the melancholy of Canlit) I have been missing my YA. Enter After the Moment. A colleague of mine has been telling me to read this forever and, as with all her book recommendations, I should have taken heed much, much earlier. After the Moment is a tall, refreshing glass of YA.

After the sudden death of Seth, the father of Leigh’s half-sister Millie, Leigh leaves NYC to go live with his dad, an emotionally-distant lawyer, and his new wife and charming daughter. Millie adores her older brother and it is decided that Leigh is the only one who can offer her the comfort and distraction she needs while greiving her father.  It is here that he falls totally and completley in love with enigmatic Maia, an odd duck recovering from an eating disorder who lives for the days she goes to visit her stepfather Josh in jail, the only person she believes has ever loved her.

Maia and Leigh embark on a tentative relationship, but complications arise when Leigh goes home to visit his Ivy-league bound girlfriend Astra, who he is technically still involved with, and Maia gets trashed and allows herself to be videotaped having sex with the school jackass. The issue of consent is murky, and Maia struggles with whether or not she can actually accuse anyone of anything untoward. Leigh, naturally, is horrified and becomes obsessed with making the responsible parties pay. Interesting questions about culpability, guilt, and motive ensue. 

There are many things that I love about this book. I love that it poses more questions than answers and makes the reader pause to reflect. Freymann-Weyr skillfully address many of the concerns older teens grapple with, such as coming to terms with the future, relationship issues, and a particulaly poignant (and American) anxiety about the war in Iraq*. Leigh wonders about the place of the US in Iraq, if he will ever have to enlist, or if it is his duty to do so, a concern that colours his motives and behaviour.

The narrative is sophisticated, dipping back and forth in time and providing small but vivid glimpses of character and setting. Garret Freymann-Weyr‘s details  speak volumes about her characters. Leigh is a pitch perfect blend of sensitive brother and son and randy teenage boy. He is completely clueless when it comes to relationships, but his desire and effort to be the good guy is endearing. He is at the stage where he is able to look at his parents objectively and decide what traits he wants to emulate and which ones he’d like to avoid. I don’t know what Leigh sees in Maia- she is self-destructive, indecisive, and emotionally fragile. It isn’t simply that Josh wants to save her, although that does play a part in why he is attracted to her. But because Leigh loves Maia, I started to love Maia- his devotion is so complete and earnest.

After the Moment feels a little bit like the literary counterpart to the film 500 Days of Summer. Maybe this is because I was reading the book and first saw the film in the same week, but the parallels are legit. Like the film, this is a story about love, though it is not a love story. I could also imagine adorable Joseph Gordon-Leavitt as the devoted Leigh Hunter, a good guy hopelessly in love with the elusive Maia Morland. However, Maia is not as self-centred and maddening as Summer-though she seems to have the same affect upon men. Like the film, After the Moment is a thoughtful and thought-provoking look at love and young adulthood; neither are to be missed!

After the Moment is available now in paperback from Graphia, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

*I say American here only because I don’t think the average Canadian teenager spends as much time agonizing over the war in Iraq and whether or not a difficult decision will have to be made about enlisting or not.

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