Title: What Happens Next
Author: Colleen Clayton
Rating: 3.75 Stars (Nearly 4 Stars!)
Release Date: October 9th, 2012
What Happens Next is one of those novels that, quite honestly, you feel guilty for saying anything bad about. It’s powerful, it’s moving, it’s thought-provoking…but it also has its flaws. While this wasn’t my favorite novel that tackled on the tough topic of rape – that honor is reserved for Kirsty Eagar’s Raw Blue, - it was a story which surprised me by its unique expression of this scarring event. If anything, I am left in gaping awe of Colleen Clayton’s talent for capturing the human soul with its wrought emotions, trauma, and vulnerability so perfectly in a novel that is only her debut. I’ll be the first to admit it: What Happens Next isn’t perfect. It has its moments of weakness, its cluttered scenes, and plot threads that could have been cut out to make this novel much stronger overall, but that doesn’t detract from the provocative – and truly life-changing – story underneath.
Can one harmless school skiing trip snatch everything you loved away from you? Cassidy “Sid” Murphy didn’t think so, but when she meets the handsome Dax Windsor at a ski resort and wakes up the next morning in a strange bed, she realizes that it can. Sid has no memory of the previous night except to know that she had snuck out to meet Dax, an enigmatic guy who lavished attention upon Sid when no other guy ever would. Thus, with yawning holes in her memory and denial over what really happened to her, Sid slowly begins to spiral away from those who love – and could possibly help – her. But, as Sid will soon learn, your problems won’t go away by running away from them; you have to face them head-on.
“…the awful truth about that night, about the horrible thing that happened to me last winter, about the rape I can’t remember, and at the same time, can’t forget.” ~ What Happens Next ARC (Page 298)
What Happens Next is one of those books which start out with a bang, the writing sucking you in from page one. Clayton takes you on the same journey Sid has been on, letting you experience her insecurities, her happiness at being noticed by a handsome guy, and eventually the horror of what really happened to her. Thus, even from the start, it is obvious that What Happens Next is both an emotional and extremely dark read. Sid, as our protagonist, is someone who is startlingly easy to understand and the drastic changes that occur with her psychological mindset after her rape are jarring. You see, Sid has a voluptuous figure that she’s always been self-conscious about, but after her rape, she begins to fear the manner in which men view her. Now, this is where the plot of this story begins to become more…complicated. Clayton introduces a variety of multiple plot threads, from Sid’s new obsession with running to her on-again-off-again eating disorder and to her conflicts at school with her best friends. While I was initially confused – and rather disappointed – by these multiple plot threads which seemed to be irrelevant, they all do come together by the end of the novel to form a bigger picture of Sid’s grief and trauma.
Nevertheless, that being said, I do believe this novel may have been stronger without, for instance, Sid’s eating disorder. It never felt fully fleshed-out to me and detracted from some of the overall message this novel gave out, but ultimately, I was glad to see some different side-effects of rape. Each rape and each victim is different and so is each rape novel and for Sid, I think this managed to work itself out. Yet, what really makes What Happens Next shine and stand out as such a compelling debut is our inside look into Sid herself. In everything she does, Sid continually sees Dax and what he took away from her. Not only did he forcefully strip her of her innocence, peace of mind, or virginity, he cut off a lock of her hair and she can’t help but constantly think of him even when she doesn’t want to. To me, this type of reaction felt so real and like a kick in the gut. We, as the reader, keep hoping Sid can be happy and find a way to move on in life despite her tragedy, but there are always small, insignificant things that make Sid go back to that terrible night. It is in these moments that we are able to experience some of the horror of this event for ourselves and Clayton’s talent as a writer shines in these areas.
“’Were you safe? Did you use protection?’ he asks, looking at me dead-on this time. No. I was not safe. No. I was not protected. But that’s not what I say. What I say is the lie.” ~ What Happens Next ARC (Page 254)
In addition to Sid, I was pleasantly surprised and moved by the rest of the cast of What Happens Next. Sid’s single-mother and her half-brother are an important part of her life and it was nice to see the lack of Missing Parent Syndrome in this story. Furthermore, Sid’s best friends were like her pillars of reason, of logic, and of love. I admired the easy manner in which Clayton managed to make them such an integral aspect of Sid’s life as well and their friendship was one that was extremely beneficial to Sid. Corey, however, was hands-down my favorite character of all. Not only was their love story slow and extremely unique, it was absolutely adorable. I loved the way in which Corey and Sid brought out the best in each other and Clayton managed to portray an extremely normal high school relationship. Contrary to what the synopsis of this book may detail, Corey wasn’t the only factor in allowing Sid to move on – so much of that came from herself which I just loved. Strong protagonists are ones I absolutely adore and Sid’s strength and independence, despite her healthy relationship with Corey, was one I truly appreciated.
In conclusion, What Happens Next is another phenomenal debut of 2012. While the ending of this book tied together everything quite nicely, I would have still liked to see more of Sid’s healing process opposed to a novel based solely on her reaction to her rape. Still, it goes without saying that What Happens Next is a novel that will make you shake with horror, laugh with joy, and sob with grief. It is beautifully written, startlingly moving, and has only made me want to further explore the effects of rape and in particular, date rape drugs. If you’re looking for a strong contemporary read that is provocative and slowly romantic, look no farther: What Happens Next is the book for you.
*All quotes were taken from an uncorrected ARC of this novel and are subject to change in the final draft.
I was given a copy of this book from the author, Colleen Clayton, on behalf of the DAC ARC Tours in exchange for an honest review. Thank You!