Colleen Clayton’s debut YA novel, What Happens Next, follows sixteen year old Cassidy ‘Sid’ Murphy after she’s drugged and raped while on a school ski trip. That seems like a pretty big spoiler, I know, but it’s not. The book pretty much spoils it with the tag line “How can you talk about something you can’t remember?” Besides, it’s not the most dramatic thing that happens in this book, even though it is the impetus for Sid’s journey.
Sid and her best friends Kirsten and Paige are pretty excited about this ski trip, but of the three Sid is the amateur and so after a few hours at the bunny hill she sends her friends off to do some real skiing. While on her own, she meets Dax Windsor, “a hot specimen.” Sid can’t quite believe he’s looking at her. He’s
… the best-looking guy I have ever seen up close and he is interested in me – goofy, loud-mouthed Sid Murphy, with my crazy red hair, bubble butt and obnoxious laugh.
Dax is all slippery charm, though, and when he invites Sid to a party the next night Sid seems powerless to refuse, even though it will mean sneaking out of her chalet. But sneak she does and when she wakes up the next morning in a strange bed with no memory of what happened the night before, Sid’s world is shattered.
Instead of telling anyone – her friends, mother, police – what happened, Sid isolates herself. Her relationship with her besties fractures; she’s kicked off the cheerleading squad, her reputation is sullied, despite the fact that no one actually knows what happened.
This is where things get tricky for the reader (and mother) in me. Although Sid has no control over what has happened to her and is powerless to undo what has been done, she finds a way to quell the panic and shock she feels. First she starts running. A lot, like hours. Then she starts eating and purging. And no one notices. Is it a case of, we see what we want to see? I don’t know. I would like to think if something this horrific happened to my daughter, I would sense that something was wrong, but all Mrs. Murphy seems to want to do is serve starch-heavy meals.
Then, into the mix, comes Corey Livingston: slacker, stoner, degenerate. Sid judges him in exactly the same way as everyone is judging her – without knowing all the facts. As the two start spending time together, though, Sid feels herself starting to trust Corey, not enough to tell him her darkest secret, mind, but enough to at least feel like she has one friend. Their relationship is one of the nicest things about What Happens Next.
Despite a few things that didn’t quite work for me – that last 20 pages or so just seemed rushed – Clayton’s book will appeal to any teenager who has ever felt that they have a burden too insurmountable to overcome. Sid is a likeable character, but I think the real prize here is Corey.