And it hurts like it has never hurt before – blinding, incomparable, unstoppable pain – Nina de Pass.
To say I cried when I was reading this barely fifteen minutes ago is an understatement. I sobbed; that choked up feeling you get with the constriction of your throat. That was me: eyes bleary, tissue in hand. That hasn’t happened in a while with a book. Yes, I cried last month over a book, but I kept the tears in. With this story, they came full flow.
The Year After You is a remarkable debut by Nina de Pass. Not only is it remarkable, it is beautiful with a heart-stopping, fragile story at the centre. Cara is on her way to a boarding school in the Swiss mountains, seemingly a world away, broken from the real world and the life she left behind in California. She doesn’t want to go there. In fact, all she wants to do is curl up into a ball and disappear into nothingness. She wonders over and over why it was her who survived, why it was her who had another chance at life and she hates herself for it.
Guilt is a huge aspect of this book. It seethes across the pages and blends into every thought that comes into Cara’s head, and later, into her conversations with the students who won’t leave her alone, even for a second. French girl, Ren, is her roommate and English boy, Hector, with his gorgeous green eyes and cheeky smile, is the boy who keeps her on her toes day in, day out. Those conversations are put off as Cara tries to disentangle her present from her past, holding onto the one thing she cherishes most in the world: G. But, she can never break away from the guilt and grief that consume her whole when she thinks of that letter.
As the story goes on – as with all stories – the lives of the characters around the protagonist take flight. Cara, as much as she tries to push them away, sees that her peers have cracks of their own that they pretend are invisible. She realises that she is not the only person with a past, or with faults, or wishes of her own. The bubble of self-infliction and selfishness pops, but not before she has gotten tangled in a web in the name of Hector Sanderson, the green-eyed Brit with secrets of his own.
The fact that I read The Year After You in less than twenty-four hours (with six and a half hours sleep, plus a four hour shift at work) shows just how much I loved this book. Every page left me hungry for more. If it wasn’t the flickers of grief that gripped me, it was the blossoming romance. If it wasn’t the blossoming romance, it was the need to know what other secrets Cara hid deep within her heart. If it wasn’t the secrets, it was the friendships old and new that filled every page with a love that is so pure and complex in young adults that it is sometimes hard to describe; and if it wasn’t that, it was another complex relationship that teenagers have when they’re growing up and finding their own voices: that with their parents.
A part of me wished that this story never had to end, but I understood that this chapter in Cara’s life had closed. The book began with her as a broken thing, left in the freezing temperatures of Switzerland, shivering with her heart in turmoil. It ended with the kind of faith that we all need to have in our lives: that no matter what, life goes on, and even if it hurts and it breaks you and it makes you feel like everything is shattered, there is still that small flicker of light and you’ve got to grab onto it.
Honestly, one of the best debuts of young adult fiction I’ve ever read with issues that reflect what goes on around us every single day, told in a way that is raw with understanding and a spark that is hopeful.
The Year After You, by Nina de Pass, is out on Valentine’s Day and is published by Ink Road.
Love, Faye xo