I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Afterparty by Ann Redisch Stampler
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2013-12-31
Genres: Adolescence, Emotions & Feelings, Love & Romance, Social Issues, Young Adult
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A toxic friendship takes a dangerous turn in this riveting novel from the author of Where It Began.Emma is tired of being good. Always the dutiful daughter to an overprotective father, she is the antithesis of her mother—whose name her dad won’t even say out loud. That’s why meeting Siobhan is the best thing that ever happened to her…and the most dangerous. Because Siobhan is fun and alluring and experienced and lives on the edge. In other words, she’s everything Emma isn’t. And it may be more than Emma can handle. Because as intoxicating as her secret life may be, when Emma begins to make her own decisions, Siobhan starts to unravel. It’s more than just Dylan, the boy who comes between them. Their high-stakes pacts are spinning out of control. Elaborate lies become second nature. Loyalties and boundaries are blurred. And it all comes to a head at the infamous Afterparty, a bash where debauchery rages and an intense, inescapable confrontation ends in a plummet from the rooftop...
There are some books that take making bad life choices to an extreme, Afterparty by Ann Redisch Stampler is one of those books. Y’all, I picked up my copy of Afterparty because the cover was gorgeous, I liked Stampler’s previous book and I was in need of some serious contemporary reading. I wasn’t sure what to expect, maybe a love triangle where two girls fight over some guy and also some teenage boozing. That was pretty much it though. What I got leaves me with complicated feelings that I will attempt to unpack in this review. I think you should know right off that bat that I did like this book, but it took me a long time to really get into it’s rhythm.
One of the most awesome things about Afterparty is that the beginning is the definition of no holds barred. We open up with main character Emma seeing this girl, Siobhan, falling from the roof of a hotel. We don’t know what got the two to the roof or what lead to Siobhan falling off, but oh man, it’s like WHAT IS THIS GIRL EVEN DOING I DO NOT KNOW. So, anyways, past the first prologue chapter, we are taken back in time and get to read all about what leads to that fateful night on top of the roof. Emma’s moving to LA with her dad who is a psychiatrist who is totally a big deal. Her dad is super protective and Emma is starting to chafe under the mantel of ‘Good Emma’.
In fact, she goes with her dad to this beach party that welcomes them to LA and ends up kissing a strange boy (this will be important later on) and meeting a totally gorgeous girl named Siobhan who will become her best friend at Latimer Day, a posh prep school. On her first day, Emma has a run in with a Mean Girl, Chelsea, who has a horse and is totally awful. Thankfully, Siobhan comes to her rescue and the two form a tight bond. Only, the bond will be Emma’s undoing as Siobhan creates a checklist for Emma to take a walk on the wild side. The two make a pact to do all kinds of naughty things and eventually go to this totally cray cray party called ‘Afterparty’ at the end of the year. OH and Emma gets her first ever crush on this guy, Dylan, too bad Siobhan decides to take him from her. Y’all, the plot of Afterparty can really be summed up in two words: toxic friendship.
I hate to say this but I just really did not like any character in this book. They are pretty much all awful people, or maybe not awful but misguided. And you know, I’ll get into my feelings about this at the end of the review. First off, Emma, the main point of view character has pretty awful judgement. I am willing to give Emma’s character some free passes though. Like, she has lived an incredibly sheltered life. She has no mom because her mother died of an overdose and was mentally ill. Due to this fact, her psychiatrist dad is very overprotective. Emma’s paternal grandparents seem to hate her. She’s actually from Montreal originally and can speak fluent French. In fact, when her dad is overwhelmed with emotions he speaks in French.
Anyways, Emma is not exactly a well of self esteem and confidence, she’s a scared girl and so she goes along with a lot of Siobhan’s stupider schemes, even when Siobhan ends up truly hurting her and stabbing her in the back. Sure, I felt bad for Emma, but you know the whole time I was like NOOOOOO DON’T DO THAT. Because I am an adult and you know hindsight, 20/20, that whole thing. I am sure actual teenagers will be like, I know that feel Emma.
As for Siobhan, you know that saying ‘bitch is cray’, that’s this girl to a T. Like the whole entire length of Afterparty I was just cringing every single time Siobhan showed up. She’s all, Emma, let’s cut school. Emma, let’s get older men to hit on us. Emma, let’s do drugs and get drunk. Emma, let’s do a line like your crazy mom. Emma, Dylan is sooooooo annoying but I am still going to date him even though I know you like him. Emma, let’s do dangerous things. Ugh, I just really dislike Siobhan you guys. And she like is off her rocker. I cannot even with this girl and her pacts. Also, she’s mean and terrible.
The guy who comes between Emma and Siobhan is Dylan and okay, I kind of assumed he would be a good guy. BUT NO. Well, at least he’s not awful like the love interest in Where It Began. So, there is that. Anyways, Dylan and Emma have this thing for each other but he gets drunk and ends up dating Siobhan instead of Emma. He copies Emma’s notes though. Eventually, Emma and Dylan end up dating but it’s messy and dramatic and tangled. Siobhan keeps poking her head in and picking at the relationship, stabbing Emma in the back over and over again. Dylan, though, is an idiot and believes Siobhan multiple times even though we all know she is the literal worst. Devil incarnate, yo. Anyways, what I am getting at is that Dylan’s real, he’s got faults and all, and while this drove me nuts as a reader, I actually in the end like the choices Stampler made with his character.
I am soooooo conflicted on how to rate or feel about Afterparty. On the one hand, this book took me forever to get into. I thought it felt kind of gritty and gross what with the characters being constantly trashed and kind of trashy. I had this superstrong aversion to Siobhan. I thought Emma was a total idiot and needed to grow a backbone. BUT THEN. At the same time, I was like, oh this is what those smart bloggers mean when they go on and on about unlikable characters and why not every YA heroine needs to be likable, because it’s not true to life. Here’s the thing, teenagers make bad choices. It’s one way they learn to eventually make good choices. I also made bad choices as a teenager too. I had toxic friendships. I was not always a nice person. I did stupid things and I also engaged in underage drinking. Whatever. So, in thinking about it deeply, I do like the book, I just need to work through my aversions.
On the other hand, there’s this element that I really came to enjoy. I like that Stampler’s books set characters in awful terrible situations but they come out of the situation scathed, but okay. Like, I don’t quite know how to describe what I am saying except to say that in both this book and her debut, the main characters are ultimately good people who make super bad choices but then turn out totally fine. Sure, there’s trauma and such along the way, BUT a bad situation isn’t life ending. I guess, what I am saying is that there’s hope at the end of these books and I like that. I like that her main characters are allowed to make bad choices and live through them and grow.
Overall, Afterparty by Ann Redisch Stampler is a complicated novel that not everyone will love. Seriously, if this book had a tagline, it would be ‘with friends like these, who needs enemies’ and well, I am going to recommend this book to people who think for more than five minutes about a book after they finish it and for people who like things like Gossip Girl (no judgement, I love that show). It’s not the easiest read, but definitely one that gave me a lot of food for thought, which ultimately is a rewarding reading experience.