As Lucy’s best friend, Ellie knows far more about Lucy’s husband Greg than she really wants to. After Lucy is shockingly murdered while walking her young daughter to school, Ellie flies to London from her home outside of Boston; it’s not long before she discovers there are things she never knew about Lucy. But Ellie can’t dwell on Lucy’s secrets because eight year old Sophie has stopped talking after witnessing her mother’s violent death. Ellie gives her all to helping Sophie to the detriment of her own marriage, which was suffering even before she left.
As Ellie struggles through her grief while attempting to comfort Sophie, she reflects on the past: the loss she and Phillip suffered that drove the wedge between them, her parents’ dysfunctional on/off relationship, and memories of Lucy (which make the deceased character incredibly real). Ellie remembers her mother read The Secret Garden to her after her grandmother died, so Ellie reads it to Sophie who shares her passion for books. Amazingly, The Secret Garden (along with some therapy) helps them both. Even so, Ellie continues to avoid her life until some unexpected circumstances force her to return.
While After You does focus on grief there’s a bit of comic relief with Ellie’s parents who have decided to remarry after divorcing years ago. Ellie and her brother think it’s a bad idea and have some pretty funny conversations about their parents. The siblings are an interesting contrast to their parents and each other while also sharing so many familial traits. Julie Buxbaum’s sophomore novel is a hauntingly beautiful story that I never wanted to end, even as I raced through it to discover what would happen next.