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After Annie, Novel by Anna Quindlen, Published 2024, 304 pages

Sometimes a reader yearns for a feel-good book, even one whose ending is a bit too good to be true. There is pain in After Annie, genuine pain and plenty of it, convincingly imparted from the point of view of first one character and then another, by an omniscient narrator. There are two primary focal points in the novel: a young mother of four whose death occurs in the first sentence of the first chapter, and her daughter Ali, a pre-teen. There follows a cast of believable characters, particularly Annie’s husband, their three young sons, and her best friend, who has multiple problems of her own.

There are flashbacks from time to time, skillfully done, with good dialogue and a number of lesser characters who are generally benevolent. A resident of the nursing home where Annie worked is one, a Mennonite woman is another, but the strongest is the children’s school counselor. Her insight, tact, kindness beyond the call of duty, and skill in providing much needed help to the family steer the plot toward the light at the end of their very dark tunnel. Each character suffers in a way that reflects stage of life, personality, and perspective.

Because Annie was a pivotal influence in so many lives and greatly loved by nearly everybody (except her egocentric mother-in-law), her loss is deeply felt and her influence continues to affect all those whose lives she has touched. Her unexpected death, a sudden tragedy and a departure without warning or farewells, is more cruel for the family than a lingering illness. Especially in the case of her children, too young to grasp the reason for what has happened to their lives and the finality of the loss of their mother, the shock is severe. Its lingering effects are inevitable, and Ali tries to assume a caretaker role for everybody.

There is one hideous villain in the plot who seems to have gone unpunished and his victim unrescued, although in the final pages the reader can see that a resolution to even that scenario lies in the future. Ali grows up in these pages, and her father sees the possibility of the sun breaking through his dismal clouds. Annie’s best friend seems to have overcome her demons and is building a new life. Hope is distributed to all the main characters, but it is hope that is earned, and much of it is earned with the support of Annie’s memory. Although there is sadness and suffering in After Annie, the overall tone is positive; love wins out. It is not an easy victory, and life has to go on despite the loss, but hope derived from loving memory still wins the struggle. It is a positive message and a heartwarming story.

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