Anna Todd's rise to fame as an author is a story that is becoming increasingly familiar in an era of self-publishing. Todd, who is in her mid-twenties and hails from Austen, Texas, began publishing a One Direction themed fan fiction on Wattpad which had Harry Styles playing the part of Hardin, an obnoxious British born bad boy and student at an American college who finds himself in the midst of a love/hate relationship with Tessa the 'good girl' heroine. The story racked up a billion hits and a large following before Todd was offered a contract with a major publishing house. Revised and expanded, After is the first book in what will be a four volume series.
A little intrigued by the authors rise to fame (and much respect to her,) I picked up a paperback version of this one from my local Big W. Two things soon became clear--the first and most important being (I'm not going to lie) that I am probably not the ideal person to be reading and reviewing this book and I kept finding myself going between giggling at inappropriate moments and muttering feminist rhetoric under my breath, (quite possibly because I am a little crazy.) The second was that I could easily understand why it had become such a hit with the target audience--all the elements for a sexy, escapist romance were there--a swoon-worthy hunk, a virtuous heroine desperate to escape her controlling mother, a romance that would never work out in real life and lots of emotionally charged and often titillating scenes where the sexual tension between Hardin and Tessa builds steadily. I find myself sighing with disgust quite a bit with the ending, where Tessa finds herself the victim of quite a cruel prank, though I suspect this is intended as a bit of a cliffhanger to lead in to the next instalment. The writing itself is not a strong selling point for the novel, but keep in mind that After was originally intended as serial fan fiction and not as a professionally published piece of writing.
Although After most definitely has its selling points to a young, female audience (and anyone else who cares to join in,) it was not such enjoyable reading for me. The fact that such an obnoxious (and abusive,) young man could be portrayed as quite appealing left me feeling uncomfortable as did the ending. Then there is the troubling point (that would have no doubt been brought up elsewhere by now,) about the fact that a clearly abusive relationship is portrayed in an almost wholly positive light. Although it is not the role or intention of books like After to empower young women (after all these are escapist reads,) and I feel that authors should be free to express themselves and tell their stories as they see fit, it does seem to be a sad reflection of the world we live in that stories with strong and empowering female characters become overlooked by the teenage market in favour of smutty and emotionally charged stories like this one.