What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton [website | twitter]
Publication Date: October 9, 2012
Keywords: rape and victimization, eating disorders, control
Target audience: Mature Young Adult
Format read: ARC from Little, Brown at ALA (Thanks!)
Summary: Sid wakes up on her junior class ski trip not remembering the details of the night before when she was supposed to meet up with an older guy at a party; her friends tried to cover for her, but everything implodes. Sid cannot clarify the details because she doesn’t remember what happened.
Sid is a girl who has two good best friends but remains boyfriendless. On her junior class ski trip, she’s suffering from a case of beginner woes and hangs back at the bunny slopes while her friends move onto more dangerous adventures. She’s paired with a flirty, cute guy named Dax on a ski lift who makes her feel attractive. Though it’s against the rules, when he invites her to a party, she sneaks out to meet up with him. She goes alone because her friends don’t want to risk getting caught.
When she arrives to the “party,” she finds Dax, alone. This is the point where my stomach bottomed out and I knew bad things were about to happen. Time fast forwards and we don’t have a clear picture of what happened, but two things are sure: a) Sid is missing a lock of hair, and b) she’s been raped. When she returns to the ski resort, she’s in major trouble and her friends are infuriated with her.
Back at school, Sid is socially rejected (adios cheerleading squad) and her best friends block her out of their lives. Sid feels conflicted; she’s unsure of what to tell her friends so she disconnects from them by swapping out of classes they’re in. She meets a stoner boy, Corey, when she’s assigned to work on the Audio Visual (AV) team with him. Everyone has this idea of who Corey is and thinks he’s just a slacker, but while Sid is in isolation, she gets to know the truth about this mysterious boy.
Their relationship is very subtle and quiet. It begins with a lot of back and forth banter that proves what a strong and witty character Sid is. Corey reveals there is a lot more to him than what people think. Sid finds out that he works at a bakery. They begin having secret meet-ups there in the wee hours of the morning, where they talk while he works. Corey fills this role, this void, that’s left in Sid’s life because she has no other friends, no one else to talk to. Even though she distanced herself from everyone else, she realizes she needs this kind and respectful boy in her life.
Not all of What Happens Next is easy to digest or quite as enjoyable as Sid’s blossoming relationship. Clayton does an impeccable job of developing a very real depiction of what happens when a girl is victimized. Everything in Sid’s life has spiraled out of control: she has something ripped away from her without her consent, loses her best friends and her place on the squad, and finds herself very alone. She realizes the one thing she can control is what she eats and how she looks. She begins eating less and running more, with occasional binges thrown into the mix. Even though Sid is a smart girl who should have known to tell someone what happened to her, she didn’t know how. She feels like an idiot who fell for a big joke, like what happened was all her fault. Sid loses faith in herself and her anger manifests itself as an eating disorder. She used this to gain control back, but her decision-making skills were sometimes maddening (very true to form for a high schooler).
I had knots in my stomach while I waited for everyone to find out the truth. I waited patiently for the explosion. The anticipation was high, as was the emotional connection to the characters. Sometimes a smart girl doesn’t always make the best decisions, and we need a support group of people to put the pieces of our lives back together again. Sometimes that support group consists of the last boy you would have ever expected.
It’s not often that I compare books, but if you’re a fan of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak or Tammara Webber’s Easy, you should consider picking up What Happens Next. Clayton’s depiction of rape and victimization is difficult, but very well written and very much worth the read.