The Childs family has endured a terrible tragedy, but the FBI’s shocking discovery has turned their lives upside down.
His kids have all moved on from the death of their mother, as has Isaac from the loss of his wife, but now that the FBI has finally solved the case, the Childs family must face the loss of Ramie all over again.
Each has their own relationships and their own lives, but all are upended due to unforeseen circumstances. As they manoeuvre these new lives, they must deal with love, heartache, and jealousy as a family, and the choices they face will not be easy.
Their decisions bring out the best in some… and the worst in others.
SPOILER ALERT: Before I begin, I must warn you that this review will include spoilers as it is impossible to review it without revealing things that come to light at the end of the first book.
You may remember that I posted a review of An American Family by Jackson Baer a couple of weeks ago. Today I give you my review of the second and final book in the series, Life After Death. Just as the first book explored the meaning of family, how it can adapt to different situations and the changing of dynamics within a family unit, the second book continues this discussion. I, again, enjoyed the style of Baer’s writing and the issues that he examined throughout but there were a couple of things I struggled with.
One of the most interesting things about this book was the concept derived from the title, Life After Death. Here beginneth the spoilers – at the end of the first novel, we find out that Ramie, who had gone missing and was presumed dead after the man convicted of the atrocities confessed to killing her, had survived her terrible ordeal. Therefore, the second book becomes about life after a more figural death. Each and every one of her family believed her to be dead and so they had begun reconstructing their lives. This means that Ramie, too, must begin a whole new life once she has saved as though the first Ramie had died and she must create an entirely new one. At the beginning of the novel, we find out that Ramie “has no one. She bought that house in Towne Lake, and she lives all by herself” (5%). Though this was her own choice, as she finds it difficult to forgive her family for moving on without her, it seems unfair that the woman who was kidnapped and nearly killed is the one who is left alone, while her family have all found seemingly happy endings. Isaac talks continuously about how he has lived “two lives” – one with Ramie and another with Julia and, now that Ramie has returned, he cannot simply go back to his former life. I loved Ramie’s response to this when she stated that she had lived “three lives” – one with Isaac and her family, one of hell in which she was kidnapped and mutilated, and the one after all of this that she is still trying to make sense of (69%). While her family seemed to move fairly seamlessly from their first life to their second, Ramie had a year of constant physical and emotional pain, which will always cloud this third life she is trying to construct, made more difficult by the fact that she never really got any closure to her first life – she expected to come home to a family ecstatic to have her back so that they may rebuild their lives together. I felt I was able to sympathise with all of the characters and found it difficult to judge any of them as I couldn’t begin to imagine what they had gone through. However, Ramie was a particularly sad case due to this lack of closure and constant hope to return to her former life.
The horror that the Childs family had gone through allowed for a very interesting discussion of religion. The book begins with understandable notions of how it is difficult to believe in a God when lives are filled with so much tragedy. Baer writes:
Some people chose to blame sin, while others said it was all a part of God’s plan. Still, some said there was no reason – that things just happen, and they can’t be explained. For Isaac and Ramie, none of those answers provided any solace. (14%)
When going through hard times, everyone seeks answers for why they are being subject to these conditions but those are often hard to find. This is something that the Childs family struggle with throughout Life After Death before coming to the conclusion that “you can’t truly appreciate the good until you experience the bad” (17%). Though this cannot extend to all walks of life – for example, children living short lives of suffering in Africa – it is a reassuring idea for those of us who can take something from it. There are people who blessed with love and fortune their entire lives and, therefore, find it difficult to really appreciate this as they have nothing else to compare it too. I, for one, know that I am incredibly grateful for the life I lead, including the difficult times I have had to experience along the way, as they have made me who I am now.
Baer introduced some important political messages in a conversation between Megan and Carter, however, I did take issue with some of the ideas discussed. One of my favourite sentiments in the entire novel was:
…do what you love. College is about more than just studying for a certain career; it’s about finding yourself and expanding your horizons. When you begin to read and study, you find out things about yourself and the world that you didn’t know before. (64%)
This is something I wholeheartedly believe in. Too many people force themselves into careers because they’ve been told to or because they’re chasing fortune. I, myself, studied English Literature because I love to read and analyse books and I am so pleased that I did. I developed skills that allow me to not only scrutinise literature but the world I live in and how it changes throughout time. My time in university also nurtured my political viewpoints and encouraged me to stand up for what is right more often. I am grateful that these are the lessons I learned as I would rather be happy and a good person than rich – but each to their own! Just like the first novel, Life After Death also includes some diverse representation, especially when it comes to sexuality – something which I loved. However, there was one line that I found difficult to stomach:
At the same time, if there’s a pastor who doesn’t want to marry a gay couple, he or she shouldn’t have to. They should find a church who is accepting of their beliefs. (63%)
I take huge issue with this notion. I don’t think that it should be up to the couple to seek out people who are “accepting of their beliefs” as 1. there’s nothing to “accept”, it’s natural and not for anyone else to dispute and 2. it’s not a “belief”, it’s pure and simple love. There were some very good political points raised throughout both novels that I agreed with wholeheartedly and it was heartening to read them but this was just one argument that I could not and cannot condone.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Jackson Baer for getting in touch and providing me with free e-copies of his books in exchange for honest reviews. Have you read either of these titles yet? Are you adding them to your TBR? Let me know in the comments below!