by Colleen Clayton
October 9, 2012
Source: Southern Book Blogger's ARC Tours
Before the ski trip, sixteen-year-old Cassidy “Sid” Murphy was a cheerleader (at the bottom of the pyramid, but still...), a straight-A student, and a member of a solid trio of best friends. When she ends up on a ski lift next to handsome local college boy, Dax Windsor, she’s thrilled; but Dax takes everything from Sid—including a lock of her perfect red curls—and she can’t remember any of it.
Back home and unable to relate to her old friends, Sid drops her college prep classes and takes up residence in the A/V room with only Corey “The Living Stoner” Livingston for company. But as she gets to know Corey (slacker, baker, total dreamboat), Sid finds someone who truly makes her happy. Now, if she can just shake the nightmares and those few extra pounds, everything will be perfect... or so she thinks.(Taken from Goodreads.)
My Take On It
Guys, I am not ashamed to admit that I like "issue" books. I know that many readers don't particularly care for them, I think many worry it will be just too much: too heavy, too depressing, too preachy. And I'm sure there are books out there fall under that category. What Happens Next does deal with some very dark, heavy issues. But it never felt once felt preachy, in fact, What Happens Next, really opened my eyes to the many different ways rape and sexual assault can affect the victim, ways I had never really considered.
Cassidy (Sid) is a your typical teenage girl. She is in the middle strata of the social hierarchy at her Ohio high school. Sid is a cheerleader, but as a "bigger" girl she is the base of the cheerleader pyramids, not the slender, petite girl topping it. Sid isn't obese, she's curvy, or as her two best friend Kristin and Paige like to say, voluptuous. It is a body type that sixteen year old Sid can't stand. And even though her friends assure her that once she gets in college the older and more mature boys are going to flip for it, that doesn't exactly make her life any easier in the present.
With these insecurities and Sid's young age in mind, it is easy to see how she could be the perfect victim for a manipulative rapist. When Sid meets the attentive and flirty college-age Dax, we can read the warnings from a mile away. And yeah, I definitely cringed while reading. But given Sid's issues with her image it was understandable that she would make the choices that she makes after meeting Dax.
The assault takes place within the first chapters of the book, but the focus of What Happens Next is the aftermath, the fallout that Sid experiences. Sid, though insecure with her body and looks, is what I would describe as a vivacious personality. She's a bit loud, always has a good come back line, and is sort of larger than life. It is a striking contrast to the person she becomes after she is raped. Sid withdraws into herself and refuses to tell anyone about what happened, including her mom, and pulls away from her two best friends in the process.
What I loved about this book was how authentic and real the characters and story felt. Unfortunately, Sid's story is not uncommon. And even though I have not ever been through what Sid experienced, it was easy (uncomfortably so, in fact) to put myself in Sid's shoes. I liked Sid's character immediately. Even though I think it was a mistake for her not to confide in someone about what happened, Sid is a survivor. She finds a way to deal with what happened to her, it's not the right way, and it's certainly not the healthy way, but Sid doesn't ever once give up. I love Sid's courage.
I knew that as a rape victim survivor Sid was going to face some difficult things. I wasn't surprised about her recurring nightmares. I wasn't surprised that she withdrew or that she probably feared intimacy. But what did take me by surprise was how the rape affected Sid's already negative body image issues. Did you know that victims of sexual assault are at risk for developing eating disorders? I didn't. And when Sid, whose life has spun out of control after she is raped, turns to extreme exercise and dieting as a way to 'medicate' herself, I had a real head-smacking moment. Because even though I never connected anorexia and bulimia as an after effect of sexual assault, it suddenly made perfect sense. Sid runs as a way to keep from thinking about the rape. She runs in the middle of the night after her dreams won't let her rest and she runs during the day when she can't escape the same thoughts. What begins as a way to distract herself from reliving that experience turns into so much more. Sid can't control what happened to her on that ski trip, but she can control what her body looks like now. Always uncomfortable with her curvy frame, Sid begins using exercise to self medicate and a way to gain back some of the power she lost when she she was raped. The last thing Sid wants to do is attract attention from the opposite sex, so she rids herself of her curvy figure. But what's awesome about this book is that all of this occurs so gradually. It's not like Sid wakes up one day and says "Hey, I don't want to look like a sexual object anymore so I think I'll stop eating and run ten miles everyday to achieve this." It's a subtle thing that happens in the story, so subtle that you don't realize it's happening right away. And neither does Sid. It's such a fascinating, and disturbing, thing to watch unfold. I was kind of blown away but how well this complicated story was told and how strongly I responded to it. When I discovered that author Colleen Clayton was a social worker and a program director of Big Brothers and Sisters before going back to school to receive her MFA in fiction writing, I wasn't at all surprised. They say to be a good writer you write what you know and I think considering Ms. Clayton's background, she would definitely be one to know about sexual assault.
I loved reading this compelling story about how a girl handles life after she is raped, but there is a lot more to love about What Happens Next. Sid's character is only one of several that resonated with me. I mentioned Sid's friends, and the fact that she loses them after her assault. It would be easy to dislike them for dropping her when she pulls away, but it's, as it is in real life, more complex than that. Without spoiling I will say that things do come full circle between Sid and her friends and there are some beautiful moments of redemption on the part of all three girls.
The next character that I REALLY loved was Sid's mom. You guys, how many times must I say it? I LOVE when parents are actively included in YA books. Especially contemporary YA. Sid's mom is a force to be reckoned with. She's sort of hell on wheels (in a good way) in the body of a thirty-something Irish mom. She is very present in Sid's life and loves her daughter fiercely. It's through her that we see where Sid gets her feisty-ness and spirited nature. And the best part about Sid's mom? She's a mom first and friend second. As a mom myself, I can't tell you how much I love that Ms. Clayton wrote her this way.
But what about ROMANCE? Oh yes, do we have some romance in this book. Sid has got so many problems and just when you think that things are looking pretty bleak and hopeless, enter Corey Livingston. The subtle and gradual way events unfold after Sid is raped are echoed in the romance between Sid and Corey. Taking a rape survivor and throwing her into a serious relationship too soon would have killed this story. It's unrealistic and Sid's not ready for something like that. Instead, Ms. Clayton writes a friendship, one that is tentative and shaky in the beginning, and allows it to slowly develop into something more. It takes time for Sid and Corey (who has his own personal demons) to learn to trust each other. Theirs is a quiet romance (which are the BEST) and watching their relationship grow from friends to more was beyond awesome. Had it not been for Corey and his companionship, this story would feel too heavy, too depressing. Instead Corey does something that no one else was able to do: he gives Sid hope. I'm not saying he swoops in as a knight in shining armor and rescues Sid from her terrible predicament. Sid has to learn to rescue herself and Corey becomes the grounding force that helps her do this.
Guys, I love Corey. He's an unconventional leading man, but he is so real. He's the absolute opposite of Dax Windsor in every way. He is kind and caring, he doesn't rush things with Sid and he likes her for who she is. He's also funny and engaging and totally swoonworthy. He is the PERFECT boyfriend and I just adore the love story that Ms. Clayton has written within the pages of What Happens Next. It was sweet and unexpected and the icing on top of the cake.
A breakthrough moment comes in What Happens Next, a moment when Sid recognizes that she is ready to move forward and that she needs help in order to do this. It's this turning point that, in my opinion, that takes this book from good to great. The message that What Happens Next sends is ultimately positive and hopeful, and one that I think any woman, young or old, would benefit from. I am SO impressed with Colleen Clayton's debut novel! It's a standalone (Hooray for those rare breeds!) but I am a little sad to be saying goodbye to these characters that I have become so invested in. I know that I will be back to read more by this author in the future. Something about this book, issues and all, really stands out. I hope you will give it a try yourself. What Happens Next is on sale TODAY, go check it out!
Check out author Colleen Clayton's website HERE.
Read more reviews of What Happens Next:
Ivy Book Bindings
Must Be 14
Girl's in the Stacks (a really informative interview with the author.)