Bookworm: Kids and death; friends and murder

Terri Schlichenmeyer
"The Afterwards" author A.F. Harrold

“The Afterwards”

  • By A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett
  • c.2019, Bloomsbury Children’s Books
  • $17.99, $23.99 Canada; 199 pages

Two halves of a whole. That’s what grandma calls you and your best friend. Two peas in a pod. Two sides of a coin, because you’re always together, thick as thieves, she says. You’re never far apart but, as in the new book “The Afterwards” by A.F. Harrold, what would you do for your BFF?

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For as long as December and her father, Harry, have lived in their small neighborhood, Ember has been absolute best friends with Happiness, who lives next door.

Each day, the girls walk together to school and they sit side-by-side in Miss Short’s class. They do all their projects together and share lunches and laugh at the same things. Ember couldn’t imagine life without Ness.

“The Afterwards” by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett.

And then one day, she had to.

One afternoon, when Ember had plans and couldn’t go to the park, Ness went by herself and she fell off a swing, hit her head, and died.

That made Ember’s stomach feel loop-de-loopy. It wasn’t the first time she’d had a brush with that sort of thing – her mum died when Ember was very young – but Ness being gone just wasn’t right. Even when Harry said that Uncle Graham’s dog, Betty, was hit by a car, Ember couldn’t think of anyone but Ness.

She was still thinking about Ness and how they walked home every afternoon together, when Uncle Graham came to meet Ember after school one day. That was odd but even odder when Uncle Graham took Ember around the block from his house and through a garden where everything was black and white, except Ember and a big lady in a red floral dress who seemed to do a trade with Uncle Graham. He left the garden with a black-and-white Betty, and then Ember saw Ness!

But Ness was black-and-white, too, like an old movie, and she was sad. Ember wasn’t sure what was going on, exactly, but she knew one thing: she was getting out of that garden, but not without her friend …

“The Afterwards” is one of those books that kids will love for its story of friendship and its poke at the dark. For an adult, though, this book is devastating.

Indeed, author A.F. Harrold has a way of taking subjects that grown-ups know-all-too-well but that we’ve forgotten accidentally-on-purpose, and he forces us to look at those childhood pricks and pains again. Yes, this is a kids’ novel and that’s obvious in many ways, but it’s also a shrewd story for grown-ups. Death, in this book, seems to be used as a passage, both literal and metaphoric as related to childhood, and Harrold lets his fiercely loyal heroine deal with it in a way that seems perfect, if you’re 10.

If you’re not – ugh, knife to heart.

But don’t let that be a deterrent to giving this book to your 8-to-13-year-old. It might be so very sad, but “The Afterwards” is also funny and fun in its reminders of how BFFs are positively essential. Borrow it back, bring tissues, you’ll both love it a whole lot.

“Odd Partners: An Anthology”

  • Edited by Anne Perry
  • c.2019, Ballantine Books
  • $28, $37.00 Canada; 357 pages

You’ll freely admit it: you can’t do it alone. Every important thing you do takes two. Another opinion, a confirmation that you’re right, an extra set of hands, another pair of eyes, everything works better when you’ve got help. It takes a pair to make progress, a duo to do well, and in the new anthology, “Odd Partners: An Anthology,” edited by Anne Perry, it takes two to murder.

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Cut from the same cloth. That’s what people say about you and your best pal but being unalike is exactly what makes your friendship work. Unique pairings like yours are what you’ll find in this collection of short stories from some of America’s best mystery writers.

"Odd Partners: An Anthology," edited by Anne Perry.

Northern Minnesota offers prime fishing and great wildlife-watching, but rich developers sometimes have different notions. In “The Nature of the Beast” by William Kent Krueger, that doesn’t set very well with an angler who loves the land – and it doesn’t set well, either, with a wolf he helped save.

Everyone, it seems, is on social media these days, including cats. In “Oglethorpe’s Camera” by Claire Ortalda, a cat fetches a clue to a murder – or does he? A bloody stocking cap and a little pussyfooting around tell the tale.

“Loose Lips Sink Ships,” as they used to say during World War II, and in “Glock, Paper, Scissors” by Shelley Costa, loose lips can cause murder. Keeping ones’ mouth shut, however, can ensure that revenge happens, even decades later.

If you could disappear, how would you do it?  In “What Ever Happened to Lorna Winters?” by Lisa Morton, how would you make someone disappear, if they lived in the limelight?

If you’re an inveterate note-taker, then you’ll understand why it’s important to write everything down. If it’s not in print, it doesn’t exist, but in “No 11 Squatter” by Adele Polomski, it’s a life-or-death matter.

And Eric Applebaum’s mind was slipping but not totally gone. Still, he couldn’t remember why he was on an airplane, or where he was going.  In “The Last Game” by Robert Dugoni, though, he learns that it’s the trip of a lifetime …

Every year, you say these words: “I have no time to read!” but this year, you can break the cycle. “Odd Partners” gives you nineteen different ways to do it.

In her introduction, editor and author Anne Perry says that she’s always been intrigued by the idea of “any two beings who had to cooperate with each other… to solve a crime.” Here, they also commit crimes, inadvertently or on purpose, in ways that surprise readers with nice plot twists and delightfully imaginative interpretations of Perry’s required “beings.”

Another surprise: some of these stories aren’t mysteries but are more suspense-like, perhaps in the vein of old Hitchcockian works. It’s a nice shake-up, which further underscores the theme of “different.”

So put away your bookmarks; you won’t need ‘em. With this book, tuck it, take it, and enjoy any of the stories inside. You’ll find “Odd Partners: An Anthology” to be one fun book.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.