After You Cover
After You

1. Toward the beginning of the novel, Ellie says, “Last Thursday, when Lucy stopped breathing, there is not doubt a part of me died too. The history of who I am–the accumulation of a million memories from a thirty-one-year friendship, the knowledge that at least one person in the world could see me, that at least one person in the world would always know me–has been washed empty.” Do you think we lose parts of ourselves when we lose those closest to us? Ellie seems to believe that Lucy truly knew and understood her, but do you think that Ellie ever really knew Lucy? Can we ever know the people we love the most?

2. Ellie talks about having two vows in direct conflict: her wedding vows and her commitment to being Sophie’s godmother. Her relationships with both Phillip and Sophie change dramatically through the course of novel. Do you think in the end she keeps or betrays those vows?

3. Why is Ellie so willing to leave her own life in Boston to pick up the pieces Lucy has left behind? Would you do the same thing for your best friend? Ellie claims she is only “doing the right thing,” but Phillip thinks that even Lucy wasn’t selfish enough to expect Ellie to drop everything and move to London. Who do you sympathize with more?

4. Ellie talks a lot about the various drafts of Lucy and describes her recollections of her best friend as “still and constant, memories an unfolded map, like the timeline in Sophie’s history textbook.” What does she mean here? Will her memories stay like that? What about Sophie’s memories of her mother?

5. Why does Greg have so much trouble looking at Sophie? And do you think the fact that Lucy was going to leave him anyway makes her death easier or harder on him?

6. Sophie and Ellie turn to the children’s classic The Secret Garden for comfort throughout the novel. Why do you think they are soothed by this particular book? Why do both want to play Mary when they playact the novel?

7. In the end, it seems as if Ellie’s decision to go back to Boston mirrors Lucy’s decision to move to Paris. Is this a fair assessment? Do you judge one more harshly than the other? Why?

8. Do you empathize with Lucy’s desire for a fresh start or a do-over? If not, do you think you would feel differently about her choices if she were a man?

9. Why is the book titled After You? Who does the “You” refer to?

10. The reader’s view of Lucy is necessarily limited to Ellie’s perspective because the story is told in Ellie’s first-person voice. Do you think the reader gets a full sense of who Lucy was as a person or are we only allotted a snapshot? And if it’s the latter, do you think this is intentional? Effective?

11. Ellie often uses words to suggest that they are all “acting” or “pretending” that things are normal to get through the days. Is this a common coping mechanism in the wake of loss?

12. Ellie, Lucy, and Jane all seem to be, at various times, women on the run. What are they each running from? What are they each most afraid of?

13. At one point, Ellie says: “If our lives were a movie, this would be the scene where the music changes….We’d get to live happily ever after, in this pastel-colored house in Notting Hill, to swelling crescendo. A simple, natural, and best of all, neat resolution. Sophie gets a mother, I get a child, Greg gets a wife. All solved in five minutes or less. But this is not a movie, and things are never simple.” Would an ending where Greg and Ellie fall in love have been satisfying or believable? As readers, are we programmed to yearn for those tidy endings? And do you agree with Ellie that “things are never simple”?