A gripping portrait of a teen’s struggles through grief and abuse - and the miraculous power of animals to heal us.
After her veterinarian dad dies, sixteen-year-old Iris Wight must leave her beloved Maine to live on a North Carolina farm with her hardbitten aunt and a cousin she barely knows. Iris, a vegetarian and animal lover, immediately clashes with Aunt Sue, who mistreats the livestock, spends Iris’s small inheritance, and thinks nothing of striking Iris for the smallest offense. Things come to a head when Iris sets two young goats free to save them from slaughter, and an enraged Aunt Sue orders her brutish son, Book, to beat Iris senseless - a horrific act that lands Book and his mother in jail. Sent to live with an offbeat foster family and their "dooking" ferrets, Iris must find a way to take care of the animals back at the farm, even if it means confronting Aunt Sue. Powerful and deeply moving, this compelling novel affirms the redemptive power of animals and the resilience of the human spirit.
A lot of my research I did over the past several years through my work as a CASA—a Court-Appointed Special Advocate—working with abused and neglected children and youth in the juvenile court system, investigating their situations, writing reports for the court, recommending services and placements, testifying in hearings, monitoring compliance, and advocating for the kids. Through that I learned a lot about the foster care system, child protection, resilience, and, sadly, the mechanics of abuse. I also learned a lot more than I ever wanted about the levels of cruelty to which some people can and will go, and still somehow manage to justify it to themselves. While writing the book I interviewed professionals about a variety of issues having to do with emancipation procedures, control of assets, and incarceration of both juveniles and adults. I deliberately avoided finding out anything about the girl whose actual case—reported in our local newspaper—inspired WHAT COMES AFTER, though my colleagues at CASA had worked with her before. I didn’t want to inadvertently use anything that was confidential—or presume to tell her actual story, which of course belongs to her to share as she might see fit, or never share at all.
Not all of my research had to do with abuse, domestic violence, or foster families, of course. I spent a considerable amount of time on the deep internet and at friends’ farms getting to know everything I could about goats. I got to milk them, feed them, muck out their stalls, get butted and hooked by them, meet their chicken friends and their dog friends and their “owners”—many of whom say that nobody can truly own a goat. I collected their stories, hounded them for details, and more details besides, especially my goat friend Lee Criscuolo, who brought her goat Mehitabel to our house in town as the guest of honor at a goat party we had once I finished the book. I also researched ferrets quite a lot, and crows, though the crows didn’t make it into the book, finally, but while we’re on the subject, was I the last guy to know that a flock of crows is called a “murder”? Anyway I had to learn a little Spanish for a couple of passages in the book, and learn goat cheese recipes (Lee loaned me a book), and read up on the life of the veterinarian-author James Herriot, who wrote All Creatures Great and Small, and research the etiology of “Iris.” I’d probably still be researching if I hadn’t had a deadline—that’s how much fun it is.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Steve! Be sure to check out What Comes After, which is out now.