Trying to review this sequel to EVEN NOW is terribly difficult to do without giving something away. Even without talking about plot points, the vaguest discussion of what makes EVER AFTER moving will act as a spoiler. So I'm not even going to try and keep you in suspense: this is a flawed but still deeply affecting novel about how the death of a young military officer in Iraq changes the lives of his near-fiancee and her biological parents, who are struggling to re-connect after mistakes and miscommunications during their teenage years.
Emily Gibbs has just transferred to Pacific Lutheran University on a soccer scholarship --- and for the chance to be closer to her birth father, Army Lieutenant Colonel Shane Galanter, who is planning his wedding to Lauren, Emily's mother. It seems that at last their small but devoted family will flourish.
But two things happen. First, Emily takes a job at the Fort Lewis Public Affairs Office and meets handsome young lieutenant Justin Baker. Emily and Justin fall in love, and it's the real thing --- for which Emily's parents are both thrilled and worried. When Justin's unit is due for rotation to Iraq, he and Emily are closer than ever. Unfortunately, at the same time, Lauren has become increasingly distant from the earnest and superficial (at least to her) military officers and spouses Shane has her socializing with from his Top Gun squadron. She doesn't agree with the war's basis and its progress; when her Time magazine editor begs her to return to overseas reporting, she prays --- and prays hard --- about whether or not to go.
Now, in the hands of a different writer, that decision might signal that Lauren is not listening to God's will. But Karen Kingsbury has something quite different in mind; there's a reason God wants her there. Justin is killed for a reason, and Emily must find out that there was a reason for her love --- just as her parents' love created her two decades ago.
While some of the love scenes and discussions of purity (Kingsbury is very concerned with sexual purity, which may strike some readers as entirely proper and others as a tad unrealistic) seemed cloying, the most striking features of this book, and the main reasons to read it, are Kingsbury's intelligent and nuanced arguments about war, military resolve and homefront grief. She has truly walked the walk and talked the talk with our country's military. Whether or not you agree with her conclusions, you'll be heartened by her understanding of and faith in our country's young men and women. Not only do they rise to our defense, they're also willing to rise to the defense of strangers.
EVER AFTER is worthwhile reading. Please be sure to share it with the person closest to you with whom you disagree about the Iraq War. You both might learn something.
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on December 12, 2006