Life After

Life AfterLife After by Katie Ganshert
Genres: Contemporary
Published by Waterbrook Press on April 18, 2017
Pages: 352
Also by this author: The Art of Losing Yourself, The Perfect Arrangement, To Have and to Hold

 

Publisher’s Summary:

Snow whirls around an elevated train platform in Chicago. A distracted woman boards the train, takes her seat, and moments later a fiery explosion rips through the frigid air, tearing the car apart in a horrific attack on the city’s transit system. One life is spared. Twenty-two are lost.

A year later, Autumn Manning can’t remember the day of the bombing and she is tormented by grief—by guilt. Twelve months of the question constantly echoing. Why? Why? Why? Searching for answers, she haunts the lives of the victims, unable to rest.

Paul Elliott lost his wife in the train bombing and wants to let the dead rest in peace, undisturbed and unable to cause more pain for his loved ones. He wants normalcy for his twelve-year-old daughter and young son, to see them move beyond the heartbreak. But when the Elliotts and Autumn are unexpectedly forced together, he fears she’ll bring more wreckage in her wake.

In Life After, Katie Ganshert’s most complex and unforgettable novel yet, the stirring prose and authentic characters pose questions of truth, goodness, and ultimate purpose in this emotionally resonant tale.

Katie Ganshert’s Life After is one of those books that I have a hard time conveying just how much I loved it and just how profound of an impression it made on me. Of the handful of contemporary authors that I read, Ganshert is one at the top of that list and deservedly so. In this story, she deals with the heavy topic of survivor’s guilt, grief and loss with aplomb and clarity. The characters are messy and flawed and so unflinchingly real that I couldn’t help but want the best for them. Though faith and questioning are central to the story, there is no heavy-handedness here. The story is steeped in tragedy, but ultimately ends with triumphant hope.

The story is steeped in tragedy, but ultimately ends with triumphant hope.

Autumn Manning is a conflicted character, yet wholly relatable. She is the sole survivor of a train crash and her soul cannot find peace in “life after.” She cannot reconcile why she was spared and while so many she feels who were more worthy of survival were not. She is an ordinary woman is faced with complex questions about God’s goodness, life’s purpose and her part in it all. I connected quickly to Autumn’s heart and kind spirit and struggled along with her as she wrestled with the emotions and questions that arose after the accident.

I connected quickly to Autumn’s heart and kind spirit and struggled along with her as she wrestled with the emotions and questions that arose after the accident.

The secondary characters, including Paul Elliot and his family, are layered and multi-faceted, as are Autumn’s interactions with them. The family members of those who also perished in the accident spoke volumes to this reader, and their interactions with Autumn were both heartbreaking and healing at the same time. I especially found Reese Elliot to be an accurate rendering of a twelve-year-old heart and mind; her character more than any of the others broke my heart – happily Ganshert knows just what to do with those broken pieces, taking what seems irreversibly broken and creating something new.

Though Autumn’s specific situation is not commonplace, readers can relate to the overall idea of survivor’s guilt and feelings of unworthiness. Ganshert writes in such a way that nothing feels dramatized or added just for the sake of shock value, but rather the characters act in a way that feels normal, even in their out-of-the-ordinary circumstances. This is definitely an introspective, character-driven novel, but I never felt that the story lagged at any point. I squeezed in a page or two here and there whenever I could, yet I didn’t want it to end.

The ending strikes a poignant balance between realism and hopefulness.

The ending strikes a poignant balance between realism and hopefulness. The back cover copy calls Life After an “emotionally resonant tale,” and I can’t think of any better words to describe how it has stuck with me long after turning that last page. Katie Ganshert is one of my favorite authors, and of her novels that I have read, Life After is the most complex, layered story yet – just don’t make me choose a favorite because I have loved them all! I highly recommend Life After for readers of contemporary fiction, looking for a realistic, character-driven novel.

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