Susan's Book Review: What Comes After by Steve Watkins
I picked up this book because I heard it had an animal rights message, and I’m so glad I did! It tells the story of newly orphaned 16 year old Iris Wight. Her Mom, while still alive somewhere, abandoned her as a child, and her beloved veterinarian Dad died recently of cancer. The plan was to stay in Maine and live with her best friend Beatrice’s family, but that falls apart along with Beatrice’s parent’s marriage. Iris is then sent to live with her only relative, her Aunt Sue in North Carolina. Aunt Sue works the night shift at Wal-mart, runs a goat farm, and is raising her teenage son, Book. She’s not looking for more responsibility and is not receptive to Iris coming to live with them, but the money from Iris’s father’s estate is very welcome.
Iris loves animals and finds peace taking care of the many neglected ones on the farm. She plays with and loves on Gnarly the dog and takes over milking the goats because she’s gentler with them than Book or Sue. I thought I knew where the story was going. I figured eventually Aunt Sue would warm up to Iris, accept that she’s a vegetarian and make her a nice meal, maybe confess a story about her sister/Iris’s mom and we’d learn why she was so gruff in the first place. Instead, Iris protects some baby goats and Aunt Sue has Book beat her so badly that she ends up in the hospital and they end up in jail. After recovering, Iris is placed in foster care away from the animals she loves and feels more alone than ever. I did not see that coming!
I think the author does a great job of developing a realistic protagonist in the character of Iris. I cried for her, cheered for her, and alternately loved her and wanted to shake her. Aunt Sue was kind of a one-note character because we never find out what’s behind her rage, other than bitterness at the cards she’s been dealt. But a therapist, a love interest named Littleberry, a farmer’s market, a softball friend, her foster parents, and even the animals, make great side characters that enrich the story.
There’s a lot to learn from this book—how to make goat cheese, that ferrets can use litterboxes and need walks, that parents should have a plan A and B (and maybe even C) for the care of their children should something happen to them—but I think the biggest lesson is that family might disappoint you and friends too, but that doesn’t mean you’re alone. Several people came to Iris’s aid when she needed it most and when she finally trusted them and accepted help, things got better.