This title appears on this year’s Abe Lincoln awards list, which is compiled by librarians who seek to help high school students read for enjoyment and become familiar with a variety of authors. Ultimately, high schoolers choose one book from the list as the winner. I picked up Easton’s Aftershock because I hope to get through all 22 Lincoln award nominees this year.
Aftershock follows 17-year-old Adam in his cross-country trek from Idaho to Rhode Island in the wake of a horrific car accident that has killed both of his parents. With obvious shock, he is silent through much of his travels, which include hitchhiking with a cast of colorful characters who take him through Colorado, Texas, and Washington D.C., on his way back to Rhode Island. While on the road, the story travels back and forth between what Adam is doing now and his past. He reminisces a bit about his parents, but much of his memory seems to revolve around a past romantic relationship.
Easton’s book is short and quick — about 175 pages — and while the concept sounds like it would be action packed, I found there were many lacking elements in the story. While Adam is in a state of shock, so much of what happened seemed a bit anachronistic to the setting.
Aftershock is set in the modern moment, as seen through Adam’s discussion about how the Harry Potter books sold in his parent’s bookstore are so popular and are always best sellers. As such, I found it incredibly unrealistic that Adam would never encounter a cell phone. He mentions his aunt a few times in his trip home but never reaches out for her. Likewise, I find the concept that he’d just leave his dead parents to begin walking home a little frustrating, and it’s not that he just left, but that he did it immediately with the plan in mind to go home and not to the police or any authority that would so willingly help him. Perhaps the real issue comes down to this: we never learn much about Adam before the incident, so we’re forced to believe he is able to walk away from such tragedy without a second thought. Moreover, Adam is all-too-willing to hop into a car with a stranger, even going entirely out of his way, to get home. A simple call to the police would have solved this story well before he got home.
I found the ancillary characters boring. I think there were many opportunities here for expansion and development, both for those characters and for Adam. All we ever learn about him is through his memories with a girl who he was interested in, as well as memories of his aunt and cousin. Again, I think so much of this goes back to setting the story in a modern era and then leaving out far too many details for the reader.
On more superficial levels, I had two other problems with Aftershock. First, on page 14 (and by now, keep in mind, his parents had been killed), Adam describes his mother as “the type of person who would tell anyone anything,” and then he goes on to elaborate how his mother was the sharing type. However, on page 15 (yes, the opposite page), he goes on to say that “my mom was soft spoken,” and he says it in comparison to his aunt who would tell anyone anything. So within a page, we have a contradiction about who his mom was that doesn’t fit with what we know about Adam’s reliability and with what we learn about his mom throughout his flashbacks. Indeed, his mom was not soft spoken. Had this sort of detail error been made in opposite ends of the book, I would have glossed over it, but because this was central character development time and within a one page area, I caught it and it stuck with me throughout the story.
The other detail that fits with my earlier comments about time/setting issues is this: Adam’s parents insisted on driving from Rhode Island to Seattle to attend a peace rally conference for vacation. We never learn why, but it seemed a very delicate concept to just throw into the story when so much hinges on that detail — as readers, we have to just accept that Adam never explains that decision to drive rather than fly all the way across the country. Since Adam makes a point to say that his father thought the state of Idaho was boring and useless, it seemed like the cross country drive was not necessarily a decision for the sight seeing. For me, this needed way more explanation and expansion in order for the whole story to coalesce better.
Although Aftershock left so much to be desired for me, I do think this would be a great pick for a reluctant reader. Because there aren’t a lot of details and because the story begins quickly and moves without many bumps, those who ordinarily aren’t readers would find this a good pick. More advanced readers or those who read a lot may, however, be disappointed for many of the reasons I was: there just is not enough to develop the story in as satisfying a way as it could have been. Other similar adventure stories or stories of loss are more strongly fleshed out, but Aftershock surely has appeal if not only for the reluctant readers, but also because it features a strong boy character — and as much as we think there are a lot of books with boy appeal, there is always a need for more.