It’s difficult to be a young male in our culture — there really are only a few acceptable stereotypes within which you can fall: the alpha male, the gay male, the sensitive mommy’s boy, the nerd, or the creepy guy. Although we know males are much more than a stereotype, sometimes in growing up, it seems those are a boy’s options for how to live and behave.
In Garret Freymann-Weyr’s After The Moment, we meet Leigh: a guy in his early 20s reflecting back on his last years in high school and considering how he has come of age. Although the story is not about becoming a man in the traditional sense, Freymann-Weyr (a woman, by the way) delineates what it means to grow up and understand pivotal moments in one’s development, particularly where it relates to love.
Leigh is a high school junior, living in New York City with his mother, a romance novelist, when his father Clayton calls to break the news that his new wife Janet’s former husband Seth has died in a terrible accident. This news has not yet been broken to Millie, Janet’s young teenage biological daughter and Leigh’s beloved step sister. It will be Leigh’s job to come down to Maryland and break the news to her, since she adores and admires him more than anyone else in the world.
While he is in town to help Millie come to grips with the news, he meets Millie’s good friend — also a junior — Maia Morland. As you’d expect, Leigh’s got an incredibly attractive girlfriend at home, but he becomes quite entranced with Maia and not for the reasons he adores his girlfriend Aster. Rather, there is something about Maia that speaks to him at a much deeper level. When Millie is beginning to feel more at ease with the loss of her biological father, Leigh returns him only to be asked by Millie and Clayton to consider relocating to Maryland for his senior year to continue helping Millie cope with her loss. After surprisingly little consideration, he jumps at the opportunity.
After The Moment explores the huge amounts of growth and change that happen to Leigh as he begins a relationship with Maia; it’s not a sheerly romantic relationship, but rather a relationship that is about growth, change, and uncertainty. Leigh wrestles with many excruciating decisions during this year, including Maia’s mental health, his role as a protector, and his role as a male living a fear-free life (Leigh spends many pages in this story reflecting upon the Iraq war and the young men his age both fighting in the war and dying and those trying to avoid the war and dying as civilians). As is likely clear as well, Leigh’s also fighting the demons that come with a difficult family structure, a girlfriend in New York and girlfriend of a different sense in Maryland, the values and ethics of love and sex, and plotting a post-high school life.
Throughout the book, I was very impressed with some of the situations that Freymann-Weyr depicted, particularly through the eyes and mindset of a 17 year old male. There was a true depth to this character and he was utterly relatable and sympathetic. As a reader, I felt entirely on his side and began really thinking about how tough it is to be a guy. This same story told through the perspective of a woman wouldn’t be as powerful or thought provoking, even if it was well-written. This is a story of growing up that both males and females will relate to, and it will definitely open up the eyes of females while garnering a sense of understanding from males.
After The Moment was paced well, and the descriptions and scenarios were quite believable, though at times I found some situations contrived or unnecessary — I thought, actually, there were too many uninteresting and inconsequential characters cluttering the story lines that were brought in immediately and then left to sort of fend for themselves in the end. While many readers might find the fact that not one single family was a “healthy, normal” one (everyone had been divorced, remarried, or multiple iterations of either), I think that might be a point of comfort for some. I become quite obsessed with familial structures when reading, and while I initially got mad that there could be no role models of normality in the story, I thought that actually heightened the ability of Leigh to grow as a male. This becomes crystal clear in a final conversation between Leigh and his father.
I found Maia to be a frustrating character throughout the book; the girl had a lot of problems that I felt she could solve for herself. But then I stepped back for a moment and realized that she is the perfect metaphor for what Leigh is dealing with as a male on a daily basis — she needs help and love, and while many could easily dismiss and ignore her and her problems, he found her absolutely worthwhile. Quite a way to parallel the ideas about the Iraq war and the future!
Overall, I was incredibly impressed with Freymann-Weyr’s After The Moment and believe that it is the perfect book for the older set of teens. The story is set up as a flashback, with Leigh and Maia in their early 20s reflecting on their 17 and 18 year old lives. Although the book will be marketed for those 14 and over, I think that the real audience will be those between 16 and 26. There is a real sense of connection from both ends.
This is not your typical romance book, so while girls who like romances may swoon for Leigh and this one, I think that this could be sold to guys. I think it should be sold to guys, actually. After The Moment breaks stereotypes and bends the artificial rules in such a manner that males may find themselves feeling more confident about how they act and think. I think Leigh will be relatable — he loves soccer, he has a tough family life, and he doesn’t deny enjoying sex — but he’s much more complex than that. I think there is still a bit of a lag in the young adult literature that bulks guys up as much more than just their personal interests. This one is a definite in that arena. I am eager to see what the reception is for both males and females.
After The Moment will be available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt press May 17. I was able to pick up a copy at a conference, and I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to read it. Keep your eyes peeled for a GIVEAWAY of this book from us very soon.