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“Following is fascinating and daring and sometimes a little dangerous. . . You never know about people; what they show on the outside is often not what’s on the inside. You’ve gotta watch for those brief moments when the hidden part slips out,” Alden. –Following
by Jeffry W. Johnston
Alden likes to follow people, especially his high school classmates. He’s not trying to be a creep—he wants to be an investigator! Following others is a good way to practice the skills he will need. Alden tries spying on his classmates for practice, but he isn’t expecting to find any dark, dangerous secrets.
That all changes when he follows the popular kid Greg Matthes to an abandoned park on the bad side of town. From a distance, Alden sees Greg kill his girlfriend, Amy. Alden soon finds himself looking for evidence to prove that Greg is a murderer. But the more he searches, the more questions Alden must answer. Without a body, Alden isn’t sure if Amy is dead or alive. Is there any way for Alden to discover Greg’s secrets or will he become the next victim?
Alden is a complicated, creepy character with a host of problems. Both of his parents were shot and killed in front of him. Filled with grief and guilt over his parent’s death, Alden hopes to one day use his investigative skills to save someone’s life. Told from Alden’s point of view, Following flashes back to the day that Alden’s parents died. Although the death of Alden’s parents helps explain his actions, Alden’s snooping is disturbing. Readers will often wonder why Alden makes such bad decisions when it comes to solving the crime.
Alden’s best friend Charlie is also not a very relatable character. Charlie helps Alden with his investigation because she likes taking risks. Because Charlie’s father is a police officer, her willingness to help Alden investigate a murder doesn’t quite ring true. Charlie clearly has a good relationship with her father, but she chooses to keep important information from him. At one point, Charlie decides that she needs space from Alden and ignores him. Unfortunately, Charlie isn’t the greatest friend, and she doesn’t add much to the story.
Even though Following is not a character-driven story, the mystery behind Amy’s murder will keep readers hooked. The dramatic conclusion contains several twists but leaves many unanswered questions. Although Alden isn’t the most likable character, he does learn that “we make decisions every day and often we don’t know the full consequences of those decisions until later. Maybe the key is to keep trying to do the best we can. If we can teach ourselves to do that, maybe it’ll make it easier to live with our choices. And their consequences.” This fast-paced story will keep readers guessing until the very end. Following will entertain mystery buffs who enjoy trying to piece clues together.
- As part of the narration, Amy and her boyfriend Greg are introduced. Because of Amy’s religious beliefs, “If Greg hopes for anything more than a kiss from her, he’s going to have to wait until after marriage, I’m sure.”
- A year ago, Alden was at the county fair with his best friend, Charlie. Alden “had known her all my life, had grown up with her, but, for the first time, I was noticing how beautiful she was. . . For the first time, I was wondering what she would say if, after we got our snow cones and took a walk to eat them, I asked her if I could kiss her.” Alden and Charlie teased each other, and then Charlie “surprised me with a kiss on the cheek, and before I could react, she was running off in the opposite direction.”
- Alden finds a phone with pictures of Greg and Alycia. “The first one shows them kissing. . .In the next picture, they had their hands around and all over each other while dressed in only their underwear. In the sixth and last picture, they’re lying in bed. The photo is not completely revealing, but it shows just enough to indicate they’re not wearing underwear. They’re not wearing anything at all.”
- When Alden asks a girl to come over to his house, she says, “Is this some kind of cheap trick to get me alone with you in your house –”
- When Amy finds out that her boyfriend was cheating on her, she yells, “Sex was more important to you than what we had?”
- Amy tries to convince Greg to kill Alden. “Amy moves in behind him, wrapping both arms around his waist, her hands hanging tantalizingly close to the front of his jeans, below his belt buckle. ‘If you really want to, I’d even be willing to . . . you know.’”
- Alden almost trips, but Charlie puts her hand out to steady him. “Her fingers on my skin. . . sent a tingle shooting through me. We’ve been friends forever, but I’d been noticing that tingle more and more lately.”
- Alden and Charlie discuss Amy and her boyfriend. They wonder if Amy might have been pregnant because “they’ve been together a long time. How much longer can they just kiss and hold hands?”
- Alden thinks back to when his parents were killed at the county fair. After his parents were shot, they were taken to the hospital where “a doctor took us to another room. I didn’t need her to tell me that my father had died on the way in the ambulance, and that my mother had made it into the hospital before she died.”
- Alden thinks back to the day his parents died. The shooter “had gotten off eight rounds, with six of them finding their targets. The whole thing took less than a minute. Within seconds there were people crying, calling for help, and police shouting orders.” The shooter “blew the back of his head off.” Alden walked over to look at the shooter’s body. The shooter “was lying on his back, uncovered, on the ground. Blood and brain matter formed a pattern on the grass at his head, but I was staring at his eyes, which were wide open, and his mouth was frozen in a half smile, as if, even in death, he was glad about what he’d done.” The scene is described over four pages.
- Alden is talking to Amy on the phone when “a sudden slap cuts her off.”
- The news talks about the death of a girl. The girl’s body was thrown in a lake and “the body had been weighted down. . . Early indications are that, though there was evidence of a head wound, the sixteen-year-old girl may have died of strangulation. . .”
- Alden goes to a park and finds Greg restraining Amy. “In his other hand, he holds a gun, which he has pressed against her head. His grin is jagged and sharp.” Greg has Alden burn the evidence, then bury it in a hole. “All at once, I move, swinging the shovel over and up, the dirt hitting him perfectly in the face. He cries out, bringing one hand to his face, the gun still in his right hand. ‘Run, Amy!’ I shout as I swing again, the spade hitting him just above the right wrist.” Greg still has the gun, so Alden swings “the shovel once more, letting go of it this time. He grunts as it connects and I leap for the gun.” The gun falls out of Greg’s hand and Alden tries to grab it. “Just as my fingers encircle the gun, something slams into the back of my head. I go tumbling to the ground. . . Before I can get back up my head explodes again, and this time, I black out.” The scene is described over seven pages.
Drugs and Alcohol
- When Greg goes to an abandoned park, Alden wonders if “he’s here to buy drugs. He’s an athlete, so maybe it’s steroids, and he comes all the way out here so no one he knows will see him. Or it could be worse than steroids. Could perfect Greg Matthes be a secret drug addict?”
- Alden mentions several times that after work his uncle sits in front of the TV with “beer in hand.” Alden says, “There have been times when, on the nights he’s had an extra beer or two, I’ll hear him mumbling to himself.”
- Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes crap, damn, hell, pissed, and shit.
- When a man walked into Alden, the man calls Alden an asshole.
- “God,” “Oh God,” and, “Oh Christ” are used as exclamations.
- Alden hides a backpack in a closet. When someone goes towards the closet, Alden thinks, “Oh, crap. I should say something to make him stop. . .”
- When Charlie tells Alden that she needs space, he wondered “if I want to beg her to stay or tell her to get the hell out.”
- Alden and his uncle go to a movie, but Alden wants to go home. He thinks, “Oh God. I have to get out of here. I glance at my uncle; he’s not going to want to leave unless he’s given a damn good reason.”
- Amy attends church and “while she’s not a Jesus freak who goes out of her way to convert everyone she talks to, she makes it pretty clear the silver cross she wears around her neck is more than just jewelry.”
- Alden attends a church service. While there, he thinks about how the churchgoers treat him. “They want to be compassionate. And they’re doing their best. What’s worse are those who look at me as if they’re grateful. Grateful that what happened to me didn’t happen to them. Thank God they didn’t lose any loved ones that day. Thank God it was my parents who died that day and not them.”
- Alden thinks about his parents’ death. “I once read about a scientific theory that says because human consciousness consists of energy, and since energy never dies, we don’t die. That the universe we live in is part of a larger multiverse, and when our physical bodies end, our conscious energy travels to an alternative universe where we get to live our lives again, but this time we make different choices, causing our lives to move in different directions than before.”
- When Amy is having boyfriend trouble she says, “I guess sometimes God gives us challenges.”
- When Alden thinks about Alycia’s death, he wonders, “Had her parents spent those days waiting for news on their daughter hoping and praying she would be okay? What were they feeling now, with those hopes dashed and their prayers unanswered?”