Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sweet, Hereafter: A Reader's Response

sweet, hereafter
Angela Johnson
Simon & Schuster

Having read the other titles in the trilogy, I think sweet, hereafter is a deft closing. This final installment is about Sweet, a young girl we meet through Marley in Heaven. Sweet is odd; she wears knee high rain boots, isn’t obsessed with ipods or Facebook, drives a truck dubbed Alice and likes feeding ground hogs apple peels. She doesn’t fit in with her perfect, beautiful family. In this closing book, it’s a few years later and Sweet, a senior, is still odd but popular. When her relationship with her family reaches her breaking point, she moves in with Curtis, another quiet but friendly young man enlisted in the Reserves home after one tour in Iraq. Their connection is both tender and tenuous.

The story unfolds slowly. The commentary is sparse and even the most dramatic scenes are subdued. This is however a poignant read. Johnson renders a short, but memorable story about how we find meaning and make connections in the lives we lead. There’s no happy ending but there is resolution. There is some peace. To paraphrase one of the characters, there is enough. We don’t get a lot of time with the characters, we don’t get lengthy histories or long passages of dialogue but we do get enough. We get a mother connecting with a daughter in a way I think the daughter understands. We get a young girl and young man loving for a time. We see friends doing what they can. We get enough.

In a culture where communication is a juxtaposition of multi-tasking and texting, I think this kind of brevity matches teens' modern sensibility without compromising the art. This is life distilled in a meaningful way.

The length of the book works. This book is small but powerful. Yes, it is a good for a reluctant reader and a broader audience as well. My experience is that most teens want everything from food to entertainment to get to the point and get there fast. No, we don’t get 400 pages of pining or violence. It’s not an epic tale of adventure. It is what I think the author intended: an intimate close to a series that has looked at relationships the way they really happen.

For me the read is seamless; elegant in sparse prose lines that feel like poetry. The depth of the work is understated but potent.

Have you read any Johnson? How do you feel about slim volume YA titles? What elements do you need in a work to keep you interested: dialogue, action, fantasy, humor?


Anonymous said...

I think it takes a special talent to write a really short book that still makes you feel like you know the characters, and that uses their story to say something larger. Angela Johnson's one of the few who can do it this well.

LaurieA-B said...

I love short but powerful books, and in my work with teens it's great to have short books that are challenging and thoughtful (like this one), not easy readers (though those are also important).

You captured Sweet, Hereafter very nicely here.

The First Part Last is such a special book, so I appreciated the mention of Bobby and Feather within Sweet, Hereafter.

MissAttitude said...

I agree with Laura, I think it takes a supremely talented author to write a really short book that totallyi mmerses you and packs a punch within a short period of time. It sounds like both angela Johnson and Jacqueline Woodson (I've started if You Come Softly!) can do that. I have not had the pleasure of reading any of Angela Johnson's books but I will.

Beautiful review susan. I love the point that the book is enough. There are no added, unnecessary details, it tells a simple and yet complex story (it sounds like).

Doret said...

I am a big fan of the less is more approach when it comes to fiction. Not many authors can pull it off, but Johnson is clinic good.

I really enjoyed Sweet HereAfter, I loved the relationship between Sweet and Curtis.

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...


lol, gawd, I need to get a hand on this book. I loooove the two books I read by Johnson (Bird and TFPL, respectively) and the only reason why I haven't read more is because my library is full of suck and doesn't have any other Johnson books. (Okay not true, the catalogue *says* they have Heaven, but I looked up and down the shelves and I don't see it. *woe*) I love her writing, how it's so poignant and sweet and so achingly beautiful. I don't mind reading slim YA books, but um, I do admit that sometimes I feel like I'm being cheated when I pay 20 bucks for its hardcover when it's only 100 or so pages... But if it's Johnson I'd pay full price up front. (I would if my bookstores had it in stock *woe x2*)

I think, I can read anything if the writing is beautiful. I can certainly finish it even if I don't care for the characters or whatnot. =D

Jodie said...

Can you read this as a standalone book, or would I need to go back and read the realted books. I love short books sometimes, they tend to be economical with their words which sharpens the writing. I can think of lots of little books that meant a lot to me ('Nick and Norah...', 'Boy Meets Girl' 'The End of the Affair').

susan said...


The other characters have their own story and you appreciate the references to them but if you haven't read the other stories, Sweet's story makes sense own its own.

Vasilly said...

I just read your last comment! Ugh! I wish I had known I could read this book on its own. I checked it out awhile back but returned it, thinking I need to read the others first.I'm going to make sure I have most of Johnson's books for the read-a-thon.