It may not be what you expect. Ethan was kidnapped four years ago on a bike ride. But then his kidnapper wanted another child. This kidnapping goes wrong and Ethan and the little boy are found. Coming home is not the relief Ethan thought. Instead, it is rocky and full of unexpected challenges for both boys. The little boy has a sister, just Ethan’s age, named Caroline. Caroline is determined to help her brother (who has special needs and can’t communicate) by finding out what is triggering his heartbreaking outbursts. She knows Ethan from school and through music the two find each other, the truth about what really happened to her brother, and strength to keep on going. Afterward is a beautiful, gripping story of the trauma of real life and the power of human connection to heal. Jennifer Mathieu graciously answered some questions about this gripping novel for me:
BCA: How did you get the idea for this story? It seems almost too horrible to be true, but I believed every second of it.
JM: I am so glad it felt real and yes, it was actually based on a true story. Several years ago I turned on CNN one morning and saw press conferences being held with two families who’d had their sons kidnapped by the same perpetrator. One had been held for four years and the other just a few days. I noticed the boy who had only been held a few days had an older sister about the same age as the boy who had been held for four years. Of course I write about teenagers and I couldn’t help but wonder – the odds of something like this happening to you or a family member are so small, so what would happen if this weird fate connected these two teens. I have to add that while I did get the idea from a real case that happened in Missouri almost ten years ago, the events in the book are entirely fictional.
BCA: This book is set in small town Texas, like your other books. Why have you chosen to make place a character in your novel along with humans?
JM: Well, I’ve been fascinated with small towns my whole life, despite never having lived in one. It seems people who were born in small towns either love it or can’t wait to leave, so there’s a tension there that is interesting to explore. Also, people I’ve interviewed who grew up in small towns talk about knowing everyone’s business and everyone knowing their business, so there’s no anonymity. The way people’s lives are intertwined, everyone being connected – it just allows for some very rich storytelling, in my opinion. And I choose to set my novels in Texas because not only is it my home state, but Texas has such a sense of place and character – for better or worse. I really love it when I get readers from small Texas towns tell me that I’ve gotten the mood and the sense of place down just right. I would hate to screw that up!
BCA: Music plays a big part in this novel. How do you think music allows the two main characters to find each other and themselves?
JM: I needed to find a way for Ethan and Caroline to get together but that didn’t require them to talk to each other much. But I also needed it to be something that could happen at Ethan’s house because Ethan’s parents don’t let him go anywhere. The idea of playing music together popped into my head, and I was so happy when it did because I think the language of music allows us to express ideas and feelings that we can’t always express with oral and written language. Through their shared love of creating songs together, Ethan and Caroline are not only able to express certain feelings, they are able to set a foundation that will allow them to build a lifelong friendship.
BCA: Where do you see Caroline and Ethan in 2 years, 10 years? Do you still think about them?
JM: I think about all my characters, and often, too! This may be surprising, but even though I did not have Ethan and Caroline follow a romantic path in the novel because it wouldn’t be right at all, something tells me they will end up together romantically, but not for a very long time. I see them being friends for a very long time first, and perhaps in their late twenties they forge a romance after each one of them has had relationships with different people. I see them together for a lifetime. I wonder if that will surprise readers! I see good things for Ethan and Caroline even though they will continue to struggle with issues both personally and with their families. But I always want hope and happiness for my characters, even though I often put them through so much!
- Speed Round: Author favorites
- Drums or Guitar?
- Drums! I wish I could play.
- Goonies or The Dark Crystal?
- People or Caves?
- Do you mean would I rather hang out with people or in a cave? This is very hard because I am a classic ambivert, so I can see the appeal of both!
- Jello or Pudding?
BCA: All three of your books have been about strong girls in incredibly difficult situations. You write with candor and care about some of life’s toughest times for teenagers. Thank you for your novels! Any plans for number 4?
JM: Thank you for these great questions and the kind words. I am currently putting the finishing touches on my fourth book, MOXIE, which will be out from Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan in September of 2017. I am so excited for this book I can’t stand it. MOXIE tells the story of 16-year-old Vivian Carter who adopts her mother’s old Riot Grrrl tactics from the early 90s to start an underground feminist teen army at her sexist small town high school. It’s got zines, protests, teenage girl revolutionaries, and lots of kissing! I had a blast writing it, and it’s my hope that teen readers will understand that feminism is not only an important social movement for equality, it can also be a movement filled with friendship and lots of fun.
Also by Jennifer Mathieu: