Vernick, Audrey

After the Worst Thing Happens

(2) 4-6 Seventh grader Army's beloved dog, Maybe, dies after eating chocolate cupcakes that Army had baked. Army's mother (whose small business cleaning up after disasters is called Never Happened) throws away Maybe's toys and leash so that Army will not be reminded of her loss. Maybe's death, and Mom's response, sends Army into deep mourning and upends what had felt like a stable, predictable life. School friendships shift and, without a dog to walk, even Army's connection to her neighborhood changes. At the same time, a new family arrives with a young daughter, Madison, who has autism. Madison repeatedly leaves the house when her overwhelmed mother is distracted, and gets into dangerous situations. Army's need to make the world right again leads her to become involved; she decides that what Madison needs is a service dog and determines to make that happen. In spite of some dramatic plot points, including a hurricane, this is fundamentally the story of small moments of growth and insight. Army's first-person narration feels particularly authentic as she navigates her intense feelings ("It might not be obvious that I'm all broken apart...Most people probably can't see the cracks from the outside"). By the end of a momentous month, Army's world has righted itself: friendships land in a comfortable place, she sets in motion some support for Madison, and she is ready for a new puppy.


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