A YA debut about a teen girl who wrestles with rumors, reputation, and her relationships with two brothers.
Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt…and his slacker brother, Andrew.
Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens. He doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing. But Raychel doesn't want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn’t really get it… and he’d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother.
The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up – and which ones are worth putting back together.
Praise for After the Fall:
"Raychel's interactions with Carson raise important questions about what it means to consent to sexual activity." ?Kirkus
"Thought-provoking moments regarding such issues as female sexuality, racial microaggressions, and class differences add depth to the characters. Recommend to fans of character-driven novels such as Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life (2011) or Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places (2015)." Booklist
"[H]art does a good job of handling her ambitious plot...Like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Courtney Summers’s All the Rage, this is an important novel for teens and adults to discuss together." School Library Journal
"This memorable debut novel is told in the alternating perspectives of Raychel and Matt. Both characters are very well portrayed as complex characters with strengths and weaknesses. The supporting cast is also well developed, with most characters avoiding the trap of falling into mere stereotypes...This would be an excellent addition to most high school libraries." VOYA, starred review
"In her remarkably crafted and unforgettable debut, Kate Hart proves herself a force to be reckoned with. After the Fall is a beautiful and brutal exploration of love, feminism, consent and identity; of who we are, who we think we areand who we have the potential to be. Everyone should read this book." Courtney Summers, author of All the Rage and This is Not a Test
"In After the Fall, Kate Hart will give words to girls who need them, and open the eyes of boys who need them, too." E.K. Johnston, author of Exit, Pursued By A Bear, A Thousand Nights, and Star Wars: Ashoka
"Achingly real characters navigate the complexities of their everyday lives in After the Fall, an honest tale about love, lust, friendship, and the lines in between." Mindy McGinnis, author of The Female of the Species and Not a Drop to Drink
"In her gorgeous and unflinching debut, Hart brilliantly unwinds the many facets of consent and entitlement, and the tragic ways these dynamics can play out, even among friends. Both heartbreaking and heartbreakingly relevant, After the Fall is a must-read." Stephanie Kuehn, author of the Morris-Award-winning Charm & Strange
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After the Fall
By Kate Hart
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2017 Kate Hart
All rights reserved.
BEFORE THE FALL
"We yearned for the future. How did we learn it, that talent for insatiability?"
— The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
It's entirely possible Matt can see up my shorts.
I don't really care — my best friend has never shown any interest whatsoever in my underwear — but the only ones clean this morning were black and lacy. Not ideal for rock climbing, and not ideal for a photo shoot, especially one for his school assignment. I shift my position on the cliff face, trying to cover up.
"You okay?" Matt asks, lowering the camera.
"Just trying not to flash you."
"Don't worry." The clicking resumes. "I'm surprised you're not more hungover today," he says a minute later.
"I didn't drink that much."
He snorts. I only had two beers last night, but arguing will make him ask why I threw up, and that's not a conversation I want to have right now. Luckily Matt won't ask about the rest of the evening. He never does. "I'm ready to come down," I say instead.
"Hang on ..." He steps sideways and tilts the camera. "This angle looks badass."
If that's a pun, it's not worth acknowledging. "My arms hurt. I'm going to fall."
"You're only a few feet up." But he moves out of the way so I can jump down. My foot hits a rock when I land and pain shoots up my leg, making me yelp. The rest of me hits the ground with a thud that snaps my jaw closed.
Matt's beside me in half a second. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," I lie, struggling to my feet.
"Let me —"
I bat his hand away and take a cautious step. It hurts like a mad bastard and I can't keep from wincing.
"Are you crying?" he asks.
"No!" I rub my eye. Black smears the back of my hand. I knew I shouldn't have worn mascara.
"Sit down," he says, gesturing at a moss-covered rock. "Let me check it."
"Having a doctor for a daddy doesn't make you one." He stares pointedly at me until I sit, then pokes and prods, trying to rotate my foot. "Ow! Damnit!"
"Sprained, I bet." He stands to retrieve his backpack. "We'll have to tape it."
"You don't even —"
"They taught us this summer." His explanation is muffled, his head already half-buried in his enormous backpack. I teased him about it this morning and called him a Boy Scout when he mumbled something about "being prepared." Going to Outward Bound was supposed to make him more comfortable in the woods. Instead he came home with a million worst-case scenarios and their solutions loaded on his back.
But I can't make fun now. "Should I take my shoe off?"
He pulls out an ACE bandage. "It'll swell too much. You won't be able to hike out." The thought of four miles back makes me groan. "I could carry you," he says, voice flat, and I smack his arm in answer. "Okay then." He starts to hand me two ibuprofen, but stops to pour water on my palms first, rinsing away the dirt. "That's what I like about you, Raych. You're not afraid to get dirty, like most girls."
I stick my tongue out before swallowing the pills.
* * *
The return hike takes three times longer than usual. Whenever I stop to rest in clearings along the trail, Matt paces, his shadow long and looming. The sun's already dipped behind the treetops and we're not even out of earshot of the Twin Falls yet. He keeps glancing at the sky, like I don't know we're burning daylight. "I'm going as fast as I can," I snap as he checks the time.
"I know." He runs a hand through his hair. "I'm not worried."
Liar. Matt's always worried.
By the time I get Raychel back to my house, my hands are cramped from clutching the steering wheel on the curvy Ozark back roads. The drive to the Twin Falls trailhead is dangerous enough in daylight; at night, all it takes is one deer to kill your car, and you, for that matter. There was no conversation to distract me, at least, but Raychel's choice of music and the fact that she's probably pissed just made my hands clench even tighter. "I'm sorry," I say, as we reach the front door.
"For making you climb just so I could take pictures. I could have —"
"Matthew," she cuts me off. "I like climbing. And you didn't tell me to jump down or put a rock in my way. But you did tape my ankle and get me home. So chill."
"And thanks." She gives me a hug, more awkward than normal with her balance messed up. My hand accidentally brushes her boob, but she doesn't notice, or doesn't care.
"Ready to face the Inquisition?" I ask. I help her inside to the living room, where my parents are watching a preseason football game.
"Raychel!" Mom gasps, hitting MUTE. "What happened?"
"Just twisted my ankle," Raychel says, shrugging.
But Dad's already standing up. "Better let me take a look at it."
Raych rolls her eyes at me as she follows him to his office, and I return it, even though this was the whole point of bringing her to my house: seeing Dad will save her the co-pay at the ER.
They emerge a few minutes later, Raychel clomping down the hall on crutches like a three-legged horse.
"You were right — it's sprained," Dad says with an approving nod at me, "but not too bad. Just remember to RICE it," he adds to her.
Raychel sighs. Rest, ice, compression, elevation. I recognize the prescription from years of soccer injuries. "How long do I have to use these things?" she asks, tapping a crutch against her good foot.
"A week or so. And no hiking for a while." He glances at me again.
She snorts. "Matt's not my keeper."
"No, but I know how you two are," he says.
I am hardly the bad influence here, but I nod dutifully. Raychel just thanks him and turns to Mom. "I meant to return your book," she says. "It's in the car."
Mom smiles. "Did you like it?"
"It was so good! The ending made me cry like —"
Blah blah blah. They can talk books all day long, so I tune them out and watch the game until Raychel whacks me in the calf with a crutch to let me know they're done. She's basically the daughter my parents never had, and I'm pretty sure they'd trade me for her in a heartbeat. "You ready?" she asks.
"If you're done with your BFF." I make a face at Mom.
"Hit him again for me," Mom says, and Raychel obliges.
* * *
In the morning, my brother stumbles into the kitchen, hair sticking out in every direction. "Morning," Dad says. Andrew grunts and takes a coffee mug from Mom, who's holding it out like a bone to an unfriendly dog.
"Are you dressed?" I ask. I'm not being a dick, I really can't tell, but he scowls and doesn't answer, too busy spilling Fruity Pebbles all over the counter. At least he's not wearing any of my clothes. "Be in the car at 7:15 or I'm leaving you here."
He waves off my empty threat. Every time he screws up, my parents take his car away, which means I'm the one who really suffers the consequences. Making me play chauffeur is easier than bothering with chores and grades. For him, anyway.
At 7:25, Andrew finally makes it to the car, slamming the door behind him and immediately glaring at my stereo. "What is this emo pansy bullshit?"
"Raych had it on yesterday," I lie, and back out of the driveway.
He scrolls through my collection. "Your music sucks."
"So I hear. Every freaking time you're in my car."
Andrew finds something that meets his standards and sits back with his eyes closed while I drive to Raychel's. I usually give her a ride, since the bus sucks and her mom can barely afford food and rent, much less a second car. When we reach the duplex, she's trying to balance on the crutches while fighting to open the screen door. I hop out to help, but I don't offer, again, to fix it, because I know she'll refuse. Even though we both know no one else is going to do it.
I lock up as she hobbles to the car and points Andrew to the backseat. "I already called shotgun!" he protests, as if he doesn't lose this argument every time he rides with us.
"Ladies first," Raychel says. "Or up front. Whatever."
He grumbles but does what she wants, just like always.
Andrew keeps kicking my seat. I should have given him shotgun — he's too big to sit in the back, two or three inches taller than his big brother. They have the same dark hair and eyes, and almost the same birthday, one year apart. But Matt's a little skinnier and nerdier. Andrew does what he can to accentuate their other differences: longer hair, grungier clothes, stupider behavior. Matt wants to save the world; Andrew's pretty sure he's its center. He went to Outward Bound too, but came home convinced he's invincible.
"Quit!" I say, twisting in my seat and slapping at his leg. When I face front, he kicks again, so I turn up the volume instead. "At least you found something halfway decent to listen to this morning."
He laughs. We've always double-teamed Matt on music because he basically has the same taste as his dad. We also share majority rule on pizza toppings, weekend plans, and movie selections. Andrew and I could probably be closer friends, but he's never serious about anything — not school, not rules, and definitely not girls. Good-natured and fun, but not reliable.
Unless you need weed. Then he's your man.
"Did you finish your history paper?" Matt asks me, not taking his eyes off the road.
"Yes, Mother." I know he means well, but it's early and my ankle hurts. I spent most of last night trying not to worry about the day that awaits me. My injury is just going to draw more attention when I'd rather have none at all.
At the parking lot, Andrew snags my backpack and jogs ahead, ignoring my protests that it's not even heavy. I hobble along with Matt and try to avoid the fake horseshoe prints embedded in the sidewalk. We're the Big Springs Cowboys. So stupid. No cowboys ever herded cattle through the Ozarks; the mountains were just big enough to make them detour west around Arkansas. But I guess our appropriate mascot options were slim. The "BS High School Hillbillies" doesn't really strike fear into the hearts of your rivals.
As we reach the front doors, our hands reflexively stretch out to pat the statue of Cowboy Chester. Touching his bronze boot is supposed to bring you luck, like a redneck version of Saint Peter. Only seniors are "allowed," but Andrew steals some luck anyway.
Inside the lobby, the late August temperature rises fifteen degrees. The space is mostly glassed in, which sounds cool, but in reality smells like a sauna full of wet dogs. We've almost made our way across the room when I hear Mindy Merrithew calling. "Oh yikes!" she says to me, her friendly tone not quite a match for her expression. "What happened?"
"Pole dancing injury," Andrew says. Her eyes flicker between us as I whack his arm. "It was awful," he adds. "Tassels everywh —"
"Rock climbing," I interrupt. "I fell."
"Ouch." Her momentary frown flips right side up. "Can I borrow Matt for a sec?" she asks. "For Student Council stuff?"
I shrug. Mindy's the quintessential good girl: Student Council, cheer squad, Bible study twice a week, and a kind word for everyone, whether she means it or not. Bless her heart. I know she thinks Matt and I are sleeping together on the sly, but we're like a very chaste arranged marriage. We wear each other as habits.
And Matt remains clueless about the massive crush she has on him. "I should probably stay with Raych," he says. "I told my dad —"
"We're headed to the same hall," Andrew says. "I'll call 911 if she starts seizing or anything."
"You should keep your foot up during class," Matt says. "And we can get some ice at lunch."
I restrain myself from saying "Yes, Mother" again and give him a fake salute.
"Hope you feel better!" Mindy calls after us. Her cheerfulness is obscene this early in the morning.
Andrew puts my pack on his chest, walking beside me as I crutch up the wheelchair ramp. "How long you stuck with those sticks?" he asks.
"A few days. Are we dicks for leaving Matt with her?"
"Nah," Andrew says, snickering. "That kid needs to get laid."
I snort. "Which one?"
"Both. Maybe he'll meet someone on campus this year."
"Doubtful." In Big Springs, "campus" always means the local university, which is so close to our building that we call it BS High School Thirteenth Grade. They start recruiting us early — both the admissions office and the fraternities and sororities. We can also take classes there for dual credit, so this semester Matt is taking Cal 3. But I'm betting his female classmates are smart enough not to date seventeen-year-olds.
College courses are too expensive for me, but at least we have a big selection of AP classes. The university professors want their kids to have plenty of opportunities to overachieve while they're here. But they rarely want their kids to stay here for college, which is part of why the Richardsons are always on Andrew's ass — they can afford better schools and want to send him to one. I mean, this one is a decent university, so far as state schools go, but if you're from here, it's just same shit, different day, bigger toilet.
And there's plenty of shit to avoid. Like the cluster of guys blocking our way in the hall.
"Richardson!" a guy shouts. Andrew stops to talk and I wait impatiently. I try not to look at the pack of boys in white baseball caps with matching red brands, bills dirtied and bent to identical perfection. Maybe that's why we're the Cowboys. Maybe Chester was famous for rounding up herds of wannabe frat rats.
A booming laugh tells me the one I dread seeing is with them. I can't decide if I'd rather Carson Tipton ignore or acknowledge me, but when he turns and ticks his square chin up in greeting, I realize the former would be better. "Hey," I say to Andrew, gesturing at my bag. "We're going to be late."
He turns back to me, holding the pack just out of reach. "Wait, is it true?"
"What?" I clomp closer.
Andrew head-tilts toward Carson. "Did you two hook up this weekend?" He pretends to be shocked, putting his hand to his throat. "Did Raychel really break her 'no high school boys' rule?"
Unexpected rage floods me. "Could you be a bigger dick?" I demand, too loudly. I thought I was prepared for this crap, but not from Andrew. His hand lowers in surprise, so I jerk my bag away and make the most dignified retreat that crutches will allow.
"Raych, wait!" he calls after me.
I ignore him. This is why I have that "no high school boys" rule. And why I shouldn't have broken it.
Outdoor Club is canceled Monday afternoon, so Raychel comes home with me to hang out. Andrew gets a ride with some friends, probably to go smoke out, but at least he won't be hanging around like he did all summer, making fun of me and trying to get Raychel on his side for everything. Going back to school sucks, especially since most of our friends graduated last year, but at least I get Raych to myself.
She won't let me help her in or out of the car, or down the step into the sunken playroom. She doesn't need my help to win at pool, which is embarrassing, but as consolation, I get to watch her shoot. I have great admiration for my best friend's pool skills, as well as her ass, and I am smart enough not to admit to either.
"You break," she says, hanging the triangle on the wall. "Stripes or solids?"
"Solids." I line up my shot and watch the cue ball drop. "Damn."
Raychel plucks the ball from the corner pocket and appraises the table, but her shot goes wild when she tries to stand on her injured foot. The eight ball drops into the pocket beside me.
I poke her with my cue. "You don't have to take it easy on me."
She scoffs and waits for me to rack a new game. "Hey, can you give me a ride to work this evening?"
"Sure. You need one home?"
"Nah." She usually takes the campus transit service home from PharmCo, which I hate, though she claims it's perfectly safe.
I break instead of arguing with her, not noticing Andrew's arrival until he stealth-slaps the back of my head. "Hey," he says, dodging the chalk I throw at him and walking around to Raychel. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"
Her expression makes me laugh. "What'd you do?" I ask.
"I'm sorry," he says, ignoring me, and rubs the back of his neck. I lean against the table and wait for her to explode.
To my disappointment, she sighs instead. "I'll be back in a sec," she tells me.
I twirl the end of my cue against the floor as they step into the kitchen. I can hear Andrew apologize again, but not what Raychel mumbles in reply. "I know," he says. "And it's none of my business if you did."
Ah. So that's the issue. Rumors about Raychel were everywhere today, claiming she screwed Carson Tipton in his truck Saturday night. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but something did, a fact that makes no sense because Raych quit giving high school guys the time of day when we were sophomores. She had a boyfriend at the time who got mad about how much time she spent at work, so he told everyone she was cheating on him with a much older co-worker. She's had a reputation ever since.
I honestly don't know how much of it she deserves. College guys are still fair game and I know she's hooked up with plenty of them at campus parties. But she appears to have made a high school exception, and I have no idea why it was for Carson, of all people. He's a nice guy and never has a problem getting chicks, but he's dumber than a box of rocks. She must have been really drunk, because Raychel doesn't suffer fools.
Excerpted from After the Fall by Kate Hart. Copyright © 2017 Kate Hart. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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This still is my favorite book of 2017! I just could relate to this book on such a personal level with what's going on in my life that this book will always hold a special place in my heart for me. I also love the fact that this book is one of the few that have such a realistic plot & ending instead of trying to portray a "happy ending if you just believe", I'm the type who wants to see a realistic side of life. Amazing book & highly recommended!
This book was riveting, compelling and heartbreaking. I highly recomend you read it.
Wow. What an incredibly powerful book. This story is so raw, so heartbreaking, and so honest. I don't even know how to talk about it without spoilers, but I will say that it's complex and nuanced and messy in all the best ways. A necessary and stunning read that will stay with you long after you finish.