Book Review: Afterlove by Tanya Byrne

“If there’s once thing I’ve learnt doing this, it’s that in that moment, when all the years you thought you had ahead of you dissolve into a few seconds, why doesn’t matter. What matters is who you’ll leave behind and I get that more than anyone, believe me.”

That. Cover. Though. How gorgeous?
Click here for book information on Goodreads.

Can I just start this review by saying that I do not have the words to do Afterlove the justice it deserves? So, excuse my clunky reviewing and just trust me that you need this book in your life. I was so excited when I was approved on Netgalley that I squealed. I have been desperate to get my hands on it since I first heard about it, and it did not disappoint.

Afterlove starts with a reaping on a cliff and goes back in time to tell the story of how Ash came to be standing on that cliff, starting with her meeting Poppy on a boat trip. Look, you know Ash is going to fall in love, and that she’s going to die and become a reaper; those aren’t spoilers, they’re right there in the blurb. What we don’t know is how all this will happen and how forcefully Tanya will rip your heart from your chest in the process. I spent every moment until THE moment waiting for it to happen, trying to guess how, putting the book down every time I thought it might be about to happen. It is a tense read.

I loved Ash from the opening lines, her voice is so powerful and her emotions so raw, that she sucks you right into her story. Her romance with Poppy is just the most beautiful from “I already know where our first kiss will be” until the last moments. We feel her emotions, we join her as she falls head over heels for Poppy, and that makes her death, when it comes, all the more heartbreaking. I am not a person prone to feelings, but I sobbed hard at that scene.

There are, of course, other people in their story too. Adara, Ash’s best friend, was a personal favourite; she loves Ash and is fiercely protective of her. Ash’s sister and parents are adorable. I loved seeing them together as a family; they are warm and caring, and the richness of Ash’s Indo-Guyanese culture really shines through when she’s with her family. We hear about the racism her family have been subjected to when Ash speaks to Poppy and reflects on her family history. We see Ash’s mum quietly struggle to reconcile her religious beliefs and the fact that homosexuality is illegal in Guyana with her daughter being a lesbian, and her just wanting her little girl to be happy and safe. There is nothing but love in this family. There’s one particular scene between Ash and her mum (you will know it when you read it) that made me cry happy tears. Her family are a stark contrast to Poppy’s who are almost never home and not that interested in her when they are.

Ash does not go easily into the afterlife. It’s confusing and, obviously, she doesn’t want to be dead. I was struck by how much Ash worried in that moment for the other people who would be affected by her disappearance. Her struggle was hard to read. The depiction of the afterlife itself is amazing: the bookshop, Dev and Esen (her fellow reapers), and Deborah, the librarian in charge, Charon and his little boat. I would be up for living that version of an afterlife. I loved everything about this little group of reapers. The afterlife has a lot of upsides, but it also has strict rules and strict consequences for not following them.

There are some dark twists in this book, some things that happen that you wish with all your heart didn’t, and moments that, to quote Tanya, make you feel “desperately, unreachably sad”. This book was the biggest emotional roller coaster I have ever been on.

I’ve yet to meet a Tanya Byrne book I didn’t love, but Afterlove was a new level of awesome. Tanya writes everything so beautifully that it feels like a constant assault on your feelings. There were so many moments that I had to put the book down to just sit with the words for a while. I will never get enough of this book. It is one I am going to read over and over again, until either the book or I fall apart.

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