Friday, May 14, 2021

Review: After the Ink Dries by Cassie Gustafson

 Today's review slides into serious themes and isn't something I can recommend to every reader. But those who pick this one up, will not be disappointed and will be left with a last impression. The author hits upon tough issues and allows them to hit raw and deep. 

But go ahead and discover it for yourself.

by Cassie Gustafson
Illustrated by Emma Vieceli
Simon Pulse
Young Adult Contemporary
416 pages

JULY 20th!!!

What does it mean when you thought you knew someone? What does it mean when that person is your new boyfriend? Courtney Summers meets Deb Caletti in this page-turning suspense story of what it is to face hard truths about yourself and others, and how to find strength when you need it most.

Sixteen-year-old Erica Walker is a webcomic artist who wants to fit in at her affluent new high school. Seventeen-year-old Thomas VanBrackel is an aspiring songwriter and reluctant lacrosse goalie who wants out from under his father’s thumb. After their electric first kiss at Saturday’s lacrosse match, Erica and Thomas are both elated to see where their new relationship could take them.

The next morning, however, following a drunken house party, Erica wakes up half-clothed, and discovers words and names drawn in Sharpie in intimate places on her body—names belonging to Thomas’s lacrosse friends, including the boyfriend of Erica’s best friend. Devastated, Erica convinces herself Thomas wasn’t involved in this horrific so-called “prank”…until she discovers Thomas’s name on her skin, too.

Told in alternating viewpoints, Erica seeks to uncover what happened while battling to keep evidence of her humiliation from leaking out, as Thomas grapples with his actions and who he thought he was. Woven throughout, illustrated graphic novel interstitials depict Erica’s alter ego superhero, Erica Strange, whose courage just might help Erica come through to the other side.



This book does hit upon several serious topics, which need to be mentioned and considered before reading it. The author hits upon sexual assault, attempted suicide, verbal and physical assault.


Before grabbing up this book, the reader needs to be aware that it hits dark and serious themes. The triggers (sexual assault, attempted suicide, verbal assault, and physical assault) are the center theme and are approached openly and with honesty. 

Erica wakes up to find herself in a bedroom after a party with words scribbled on her entire body, not only cruel terms but the names of several guys she knows. Ashamed and not sure how to handle the situation, she hides it as best she can. But it soon becomes clear that this isn't going to work. Some of the guys are more than willing to stab with reminders of what happened, and her best friend is acting strange. Worse yet, her boyfriend seems to have been a part of it...a guy, she was positive was incapable of such a terrible act. But while this assault is more than she can already handle, it's only the beginning.

The book is written from two points of alternating views: Erica and her boyfriend, Thomas. The first page hits with Erica waking up to discover she's been assaulted by several people. The scene hits raw and harsh, and with the confusion and humiliation to make it break the heart. Thomas' opening chapter, the next one, clashes wonderfully with Erica's as he rushes through his next day totally oblivious to what he and his friends had done. The reader learns to know each of these characters as the tale delves deep into their thoughts and emotions, building well-done depth.

The pacing keeps everything moving, while still allowing both characters to develop. Their views and thoughts change as they face dark truths and deal with things as more and more comes to light. Erica's thoughts and actions are more than understandable, and the cruelty she faces is more than harsh. There were a few aspects (more on Thomas's end), which didn't transition quite right, but the intensity is still strong and leaves an impact. The author does a great job at letting the pressure build little by little, allowing the reader to know that it is only a matter of time before everything comes apart. 

Erica's interest in creating a graphic novel/comic also adds a unique touch. These illustrations are sprinkled in at just the right time. And while not humorous, they do add a bit of much needed release, and still deepen the emotional predicament Erica finds herself in at the same time.

This is a well written read which packs a punch. 

And here they are...

The Author...
Cassie Gustafson hails from Northern California and majored in words, earning a dual-BA in comparative literature and Spanish at University of California at Santa Barbara, an MA in English literature at Cal State Fullerton, and an MFA in writing for young adults at Hollins University. Before finding her way to writing, she served high tea at a five-star B&B, tended plants in a lavender greenhouse, and nannied and taught preschool. Cassie enjoys ping-ponging around the globe with her adventurous pilot husband and their fluffy black kitty. Depending on the day, you may find her working on her next novel or toppling over in a yoga class somewhere. Cassie’s work has garnered the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award, the Shirley Henn Creative Writing Award, and the Ruth Landers Glass Scholarship. Visit her at

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