Sixteen-year-old Sid Murphy’s life changes drastically after she meets a mysterious older guy named Dax Windsor on a school ski trip. When he invites her to a party, Sid feels like her dreams are coming true. Against the advise of her friends, Sid decides to sneak out at night and go to the party. But Dax is not who he says he is, and when Sid wakes up in the morning much later than when she was supposed to be back, with no recollection of the night before, she finds herself in trouble with her school and family. After the disastrous ski trip, Sid loses everything that made her happy, like her two close friends, her position on the cheerleading team, and her self-esteem. Now Sid runs four hours a day and cannot sleep, and finds it difficult to make friends at school. But hope materializes in the last place she expected, in the school’s AV room with Corey Livingston, or the “Living Stoner,” who might also not be what Sid and everyone expects. As Sid and Corey’s friendship deepens, it might become Sid’s road to salvation, if only she allows it.
What Happens Next is a smart and engaging novel in many ways similar to Speak. Though not a tour de force like Speak, and much less popular, this novel has many merits of its own. While it talks about difficult issues, it is not meant to be a tearjerker. It chronicles an average girl’s struggle and recovery after a terrible incident. For Sid is an average girl with good and bad things in her life. She is a cheerleader, but she feels insecure about her voluptuous figure. She has a strong support system in her friends and family, though she is being raised by a single mother. The author aims to show that while things might seem pretty bad and unbearable for a while, there is always a chance that things will get better again, but not on their own, and while people can make their predicament worse by self-destructive activities, there is always a way out.
However, the book, like its heroine, is a little too average. While a good and enjoyable read, the book does not have any particular characteristics that would raise it above other realistic books for teenage girls (Sarah Dessen and Lurlene McDaniel, to name a couple of obvious ones). While there is nothing pedestrian about the issues Sid has to deal with, the book lacks that emotional power to burrow into the readers’ hearts and make them fall in love with the characters. Although many reviewers fall in love with Corey’s character and think of him as the perfect sensitive guy every girl should find, I found him to be somewhat lackluster. While the character development for Sid is great, Corey’s character is not fully developed. While he says and does the right things, he only seems like a one-dimensional character whose only purpose is to calm Sid’s emotional outbursts.
The unexpected verdict: Read it. It might not be a work of genius, but it is an enjoyable read, and its lack of emotional punch and optimistic outlook might make it easier for those who aren’t necessarily looking for a tear jerker.