5 and 5: Revisiting AFTER by Anna Todd

5:33 PM

Did my review change? 

The original review was not favorable.

Like, at all.

We're talking straight off the bat one star review.  

Oops! I'm not even going to bother to show it (if you want to find it it's somewhere on the blog and Goodreads) because it was bordering on ranting. And I'm lazy.

The thing about this book (and the series) is that I somehow managed to power through it. Despite not liking it? And somehow, I am okay with revisiting it? I am fairly certain that my original review of After used the phrase, "A train-wreck I couldn't look away from."

So, it's safe to say that my feelings for After are complex and unique and basically a bunch of ?????? in a row. Insert an I AM CONFUSION gif here. How do you describe a one-star review that led to a complete binge read of the rest of the series? I can't. I don't know. We'll never know.
With the upcoming film adaptation coming out of the first book, I decided now was as good of a time as any to get into it and see if my thoughts have changed. I won't go into the basics of the series as a whole, but if you've been in the book blogging community for at least five years you've probably heard a lot about After

If you've read it? Well. You either HATE After with a fiery passion or LOVE it... with an equally fiery passion. If not, you've likely heard the ions of controversy that has stuck with the novel from the get-go. 
From a remarkably high amount of signs of abuse in the main romance to the fact that it began as a One Direction based fanfiction on Wattpad, Anna Todd has had a lot of negativity attached to After from the start. Not to mention the obvious similarities and controversies that it shares with fellow fanfic-turned-bestselling-novel, Fifty Shades of Grey

Here's what I remember not liking, round one
(And, yes, I wrote this out before rereading.)
  • The writing. Anna Todd wrote the entirety of this novel (and I think, the series?) on her PHONE. Which is impressive and I'm not going to focus too much on dragging her for it. But, yes, the writing? Not for me. I felt like the story dragged on and was just the same five events playing on loop, and it could have been condensed and expanded upon. The chapters were odd (SO many short chapters) and again, could have been altered. And don't even get me started on the editing...
  • I honestly don't remember if I liked or disliked Tessa Young as a character. I may have been indifferent towards her. I may have disliked her fully due to the constant slut-shaming she provides in the narration. After has a habit of shaming girls while letting its male lead (actual human trash-bag, Hardin Scott) get away with a lot. It's odd. I think odd is one of my favourite words when I am describing After. I remember I hated pretty much all the characters but especially Hardin Scott, and side characters like Molly. I think the only characters I liked in my original read were... Landon. So, one. Woo-hoo. I may have liked Steph, but we don't talk about that anymore. 
  • Back to hating on characters: I LOATHED Tessa's mom. She was just so ???? and Tessa really, really goes through some shit with the relationships in her life. I don't remember Tessa's mom's name but I remember dragging her frequently and referring to her as "POS #2" throughout the novel. Her behavior made me sympathetic towards Tessa then and now. I just found her mom's behavior to be anywhere from overbearing to hateful and abusive and just... judgmental as hell. I think she loves Tessa in whatever way she can, but, yeah. It's NAGL. She's just uppity and rude to everyone and anything that isn't Tessa's boyfriend, Noah, who she seems to treat like the child she never had or something. 
  • The relationships. To sum up the relationships in After? Hell. Everyone's a mess. We start the novel with Tessa and Noah. Noah has been Tessa's boyfriend for ages and they're just... boring. We don't get to know him either because he's basically just a cardboard cut out from Perfect Boyfriend Weekly. So, she cheats on him with Hardin. Fun times! Hardin basically treats her like dirt for the duration of After and only gets worse by the end of the book. Then, there's Tessa's new friend, who is also one of Hardin's friends, Zed, who isn't as bad when compared to Hardin. There are a lot of characters, who form a lot of relationships and they're all either (a) Dull or (b) Toxic. At least you have variety. Did I mention both Hardin and Zed go after (ha) Tessa as a dare? A challenge/bet? Yes, these are college students. 
  • The constant gasping. I remember this vividly. Nobody gasps that much. Sorry. 
Things I did like: 

  • Tessa and Landon's friendship. It was sweet. I liked that there was a platonic friendship in this series from the start and that nothing romantic was ever between them. I thought that Landon was a good balance with everything and one of the only people that saw Tessa as she was, through it all. 
  • Literature references. Where literature references lead, I will follow. 
  • Consistent campiness and trashiness. At the end of the day After is meant to entertain and in some ways I think it kind of did? I mean, it clearly did if I stuck to reading it all. 
  • The development of Hardin's backstory with his dad and the fact that his dad has been trying to make amends for not being a good guy. In a way, I also like that this ties into and parallels Hardin's own story and development. 
  • Also, Tessa's brief backstory and the glimpses we get about her own father. It sets up a stage for future developments. 
  • The little inklings of what comes next throughout the rest of the story. I.E.: family things.

It is officially Valentine's Day. Two things: the trailer for the movie just came out, and I linked it early on in this post. The other thing? I just finished my second read of After. Originally, I was going to tab pages and take notes to build on my thoughts now vs. then. This didn't work out because I fell into a trance again ("A train-wreck I couldn't look away from!") and also there's not a lot to tab or highlight in terms of memorable quotes.

Aside from the obvious Wuthering Heights reference that fans seem to attribute to Anna Todd. Even though Anna herself is like, yo, bros, this quote isn't mine.

I do have A LOT OF THOUGHTS this time around. (1) Most of my thoughts have not changed since I first read After. (2) With that being said, I enjoyed the book far more this time around but still didn't, ah, like it. I think After qualifies as a hate-read which I'm typically against. (3) I can't not approach this book in a non critical way.

It's very flawed and I'm not about that life of romanticizing this behavior as ~~~~~~~dreamy. I'm all for flawed characters because that reflects life but there are a lot of things wrong with After and the fact that it is marketed towards young girls. That being said, I'm also aware that young girls are very, very smart and most of them can distinguish the difference between realty vs. fiction.

It is not my place to criticize what they feel is entertaining, so long as they aren't being drawn into a very... scary headspace. I am, however, still concerned about the ones who are swayed into thinking that this is just an accurate portrayal about love and growth. While Tessa and Hardin grow by the end of the series, this isn't always the case, and sticking by someone doesn't always pay off that way.

You get my point--don't look to fictional romances for inspiration for your romantic life. It's not safe.

Woo!!!! RANT OVER. I'm going to get into things about After that I didn't like and things that I did.

Things that I didn't like, round two:

  • Literally everything I listed before. I didn't like the same things, again
  • The instalove and instafriendships and instaenemies are WAY TOO OBVIOUS this time around. And, I mean, it's not like they were subtle to begin with. 
  • I am not sure if I'm just not paying attention but I still think the fact that Steph is so gross and shady isn't even slightly foreshadowed in this book. I mean, looking back, you can go: "Oh, she is so fake." and everything but I still feel like maybe Anna Todd just went on a whim with that and was like, hm, everyone thinks Molly is the worst and that Steph is Tessa's friend so I am going to throw them off real quick. 
  • Now I'm not going to lie to you: the fact that Hardin kept "proof" of having taken Tessa's virginity by keeping her bedding weirded me out before. It made me sick to my stomach, as it was meant to. For some reason it grossed me out even further. Like, hey! This is the romantic lead here? LOL, sorry, IDK him! Boy, bye
  • (Insert long winded rant about the emotional abuse.) 
  • Not to go off into another rant about this but WHY IS THERE SO MUCH SLUT SHAMING? I mean???????????? It serves no point??????????????? It doesn't make Tessa look like ~an innocent flower~ because that trope goes out the window she begins cheating on her boyfriend. I just... nope
  • All of the friends of Hardin, Molly, Zed and Steph's crew are so interchangeable. I don't know their names. I don't care to know. I remember vaguely. Some are trash, some are okay. Mostly, they are just there. Kind of like Noah, but a different brand. I know they probably start with at least one L and N, because it seems like the names of 1D members and After characters were changed only slightly.  
  • Also, how often to a bunch of university students play TRUTH OR DARE? I'm fairly certain we stopped playing that in middle school so anytime it pops up in After (it happens A LOT) I cringe.
Things I did like, round two: 

  • I kind of appreciated After's general campiness even more this time. It was like reading a novelization of a soap opera. It was a hot mess. A lot of gasping. A lot of outlandish things. A lot of mundane things. Remarkably very little schooling going on at university. The general dramatics of it all. How irrationally angry Tessa's mom was about her roommate/roommates friends. How blatantly obvious the differences are between Tessa, Noah and Landon vs. Hardin, Molly, Steph, Zed, etc. It was almost endearing. Almost
  • I think I liked Molly a lot more. She is just so cartoonishly mean. Really. And nowadays, I like that she's actually the only "real" character of the bunch, which is kind of hilarious. Maybe I'm just fond of Molly, remembering her story in Before and the fact that she wasn't... awful, when The Situation happens in later books. There's just a lot more to Molly than After explored and I shamelessly think she's the biggest redeeming quality when you read all the books and have all the character's flaws laid out there. 
  • Tessa does grow as a character. Especially when you look back. I think she's an okay character. Flawed, naive, just completely young. In a way, Hardin grows too by the end of the series, but. Well. You know what I'm going to say. 
  • There aren't a lot of descriptive settings in After but I liked the wedding (Hardin's dad and Landon's mom) and the idea of a bonfire. They weren't executed well by any means, but I liked the idea of them I guess? Maybe? 
Overall, my initial one star rating of After hasn't changed in the years since. It's still a train-wreck I couldn't look away from and don't condone off page. This is not meant to target Anna Todd or any fans of After in anyway--I respect what you enjoy and if it makes you happy, it makes me happy.
When it comes to After, if you've read it... Where do you stand on it? Did you hate it? Love it? 

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