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What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins
Contemporary fiction

What Comes After

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, JoAnne Tompkins, on your first book!

by JoAnne Tompkins

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Quick take

How do we recover from loss? This moving novel of a town struggling after the death of two boys offers hope and wisdom.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Sad

    Sad

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_GraphicViolence

    Graphic violence

Synopsis

In misty, coastal Washington State, Isaac lives alone with his dog, grieving the recent death of his teenage son, Daniel. Next door, Lorrie, a working single mother, struggles with a heinous act committed by her own teenage son. Separated by only a silvery stretch of trees, the two parents are emotionally stranded, isolated by their great losses—until an unfamiliar pregnant sixteen-year-old girl shows up, bridges the gap, and changes everything.

Evangeline’s arrival at first feels like a blessing, but she is also clearly hiding something. When Isaac, who has retreated into his Quaker faith, isn’t equipped to handle her alone, Lorrie forges her own relationship with the girl. Soon all three characters are forced to examine what really happened in their overlapping pasts, and what it all possibly means for a shared future.

With a propulsive mystery at its core, What Comes After offers an unforgettable story of loss and anger, but also of kindness and hope, courage and forgiveness. It is a deeply moving account of strangers and friends not only helping each other forward after tragedy, but inspiring a new kind of family.

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Content warning

This book contains scenes that depict violence and sexual assault, as well as mentions of suicide and suicide ideation.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of What Comes After.
What Comes After

1

First, the raw facts.

A week into his senior year, my son failed to come home after football practice. When he hadn’t appeared by morning, I called Daniel’s mother, Katherine. She walked off her nursing shift, drove six hours from Spokane and boarded a ferry to Port Furlong. By the time she was pulling up my drive, Gary Barton, the sheriff, was pulling out. I had contacted him when calls to friends and relations turned up nothing. Gary, a gruff, efficient man, had, in the span of a few hours, recruited and organized two dozen people to start a search.

In the days that followed, Katherine and I devoted ourselves to finding our son. Students and teachers and family friends, even strangers, joined us, scouring alleys and parks and the woods that surround our small town. Seven days in we had yet to discover a clue.

On the morning of the eighth day, Daniel’s childhood friend Jonah was found dead. In a suicide note, he confessed to Daniel’s murder. While the note provided careful directions to our son’s remains, it gave no explanation or other details. Jonah—who had been nearly a second child to us, who had appeared each day pretending to search with the others—had likely witnessed our suffering and chosen to spare us further agonies of hope.

Daniel was found then, his body slashed to pieces, dragged from brambles and partially claimed by scavengers that populate our woods—likely crows and coyotes according to the autopsy report. The weapon that executed the savagery was a 4.2?inch fixed-?­blade hunting knife, also used to gut a large buck whose tattered carcass lay nearby.

These are the facts. They reveal only that the greatest mysteries lie hidden in what we believe we already know.

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Why I love it

Many books rush at plot as if it’s a wall that needs to be scaled as quickly as possible; What Comes After has plenty of plot, but none of the rush. There are moments of wisdom in its quiet scenes, such as when one character lays next to a beloved dog; and moments of kindness, too. What I loved most about What Comes After were those moments of peace, when the characters work to collect themselves in the wake of a terrible tragedy.

At the start of the novel, we find that two teenagers who lived next door to each other in a small town—Daniel and Jonah—have died in shocking ways. Daniel’s father and Jonah’s mother are left living side-by-side, locked into silence by their grief. It takes the arrival of a mysterious girl, Evangeline, for the boys’ stories to begin to be told.

This is a story about how important it is for us to truly know each other, and ourselves. Each character in the novel has a hidden, complicated truth inside them, and part of the tragedy is that these boys weren’t seen for who they were—for better and for worse—before they died. But the grief-wrecked people left behind find that there’s always time, even if it feels too late, to learn the truth. And as they throw open old creaky doors and reconsider both their neighbors and themselves, they find there is space for love.

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Member ratings (17,695)

  • Lily S.

    Renton, WA

    Heart-wrenching and beautifully written, this novel sucked me into the lives and stories of these characters from the very first page. I’d recommend this to anyone. What a stunning debut! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Rebecca W.

    Asheville, NC

    An absolutely stunning debut. I’m so glad I selected this for my April BOTM. Tompkins really nails the complexity of human emotion. I couldn’t put this down. A favorite so far for 2021. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Kristin N.

    Salem, OR

    This book is pure love. It’s perfection. I haven’t cried reading a book in a long time and this one just did me in. The pain, the fortitude, the compassion, and the love - eloquently written. ❤️❤️❤️❤️

  • Kim B.

    Lithonia, GA

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ One of the best books I've ever read; it was a journey. It was pure beauty and pure pain. I was overwhelmed by the truth in this book and its characters. I was a mess the last 100 pages.

  • Kathleen O.

    Boston, MA

    I put this off forever since I thought it might be too depressing. I’m glad I finally picked it up. Serious and hard, but uplifting. Very interesting plot to know the “who” upfront but not the “why”

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