Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spotlight Review: Sweet Hereafter by Angela Johnson

This review is a guest post by the awesome LaTonya at Black Eyed Susans

LaTonya is closer to fifty than not and happy about it. She has two daughters, one kitty and one great guy. In her former life she worked in reference publishing and had a successful run as a small press publisher, book charity administrator and currently her friends call her a literacy advocate. Favorite genres: YA, women's and multicultural literature. Favorite food is Indian. She's like young crooners like Jaime Cullen and mature singers like Cassandra Wilson and Dianne Reeves. She will not name a favorite author or book. :-)
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?


  1. I love Angela Johnson. Your phrase "slim but powerful" describes her books so well! I've read the first two books in this trilogy and just requested this one from the library. Thanks for the review!

  2. I'm dying to read Angela Johnson, I'm hoping there will be some of her books when I go to the library today!

    That said, I agree with you on slim but powerful titles, I'm not sure if Push would be classed as YA, but holy hell was that book powerful and certainly impacted me, I still can't get Precious Jones out of my head.

  3. Susan,
    love your avatar. I remember my babies that small. Thank you.

    April, a lot of teens and young adults read Push at the non-profit where I volunteered.

  4. The Heaven Trilogy is so good. Johnson knows how to connect a reader with her characters.

  5. I'm having trouble making a link. I feel like crying. My challenge is in the sidebar of my blog. While the review is a link. Help!!