Finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize
Named a top beach read of summer by Oprah Daily, Good Housekeeping, The Wall Street Journal, and more
“Nail-biting wallop of a debut . . . a thoughtful, unexpectedly optimistic tale.” —The New York Times
“If you enjoyed The Searcher by Tana French, read What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins. . . . a mystery—and a gritty meditation on loss and redemption, drenched in stillness and grief.” —The Washington Post
After the shocking death of two teenage boys tears apart a community in the Pacific Northwest, a mysterious pregnant girl emerges out of the woods and into the lives of those same boys’ families—a moving and hopeful novel about forgiveness and human connection.
In misty, coastal Washington State, Isaac lives alone with his dog, grieving the recent death of his teenage son, Daniel. Next door, Lorrie, a working single mother, struggles with a heinous act committed by her own teenage son. Separated by only a silvery stretch of trees, the two parents are emotionally stranded, isolated by their great losses—until an unfamiliar sixteen-year-old girl shows up, bridges the gap, and changes everything.
Evangeline’s arrival at first feels like a blessing, but she is also clearly hiding something. When Isaac, who has retreated into his Quaker faith, isn’t equipped to handle her alone, Lorrie forges her own relationship with the girl. Soon all three characters are forced to examine what really happened in their overlapping pasts, and what it all possibly means for a shared future.
With a propulsive mystery at its core, What Comes After offers an unforgettable story of loss and anger, but also of kindness and hope, courage and forgiveness. It is a deeply moving account of strangers and friends not only helping each other forward after tragedy but inspiring a new kind of family.
Tompkins's intense debut blends a mystery and a depiction of a Quaker community's psychological processing of grief after the death of two teenage boys. Daniel Balch is killed by his childhood friend and next-door neighbor, Jonah Geiger, who then dies by suicide. In the aftermath, Daniel's father, Isaac, a teacher at the high school, takes in an abandoned pregnant 16-year-old girl, Evangeline McKensey, and later wonders if either Jonah or Daniel was the father. Meanwhile, Jonah's widowed mother, Lorrie, helps Isaac with Evangeline, and Isaac's friend and high school principal, Peter Thibodeau, worries about what it would mean for the truth to come out about the pregnancy. Tompkins slowly and tantalizingly draws out the details as Isaac struggles with his faith. Chapters from Jonah's point of view can be wrenching, especially when he reflects on good versus evil and his experiences in Quaker meetings, but at other times they fall flat and feel overstuffed with exposition. Tompkins's strong point is in deepening the emotional complexities of each character's actions with well-placed backstory, as with Lorrie's and Peter's involvement in the stories of Jonah and Evangeline. While anger, loss, and grief dominate the characters' lives, forgiveness and connection ease the pain. At its best, this illuminates the limits of faith when facing the darker corners of human behavior.