Now Reading
Book Review: What Happens After Midnight by K. L. Walther

Book Review: What Happens After Midnight by K. L. Walther

I fell head over heels for K. L Walther’s The Summer of Broken Rules when I read it last year; moving, emotional and romantic, it was everything I wanted a YA summer read to be. So when Walther’s latest book came up on my radar, I was already anticipating another sun-soaked, dreamy and heartfelt coming-of-age story to get lost in.

What Happens After Midnight isn’t exactly that. Here, we swap Martha’s Vineyard for a beachside boarding school in Rhode Island, condense the narrative from a long, lazy summer to one sprawling, summer night and introduce a second chance romance that’s filled with pining and the lingering hurt of past adolescent upsets. Yet it still offers readers a sweet, light-hearted and easy novel about first love, stepping out of your comfort zone and finding yourself.

With just two weeks to go until graduation, all the seniors at the exclusive Ames boarding school in Rhode Island have just three things on their mind: prom, yearbooks and what this year’s Jester’s highly-anticipated senior prank will be. For Lily Hopper, however, it’s just two more weeks until she’s officially done with school and she can finally move on from the memory of her relationship with her first love. But when she realises that her classmates all see her as the reliable, dependable one, Lily starts to wonder if maybe she missed out on all the fun of being in high school after all.

Enter the Jester. When Lily is tapped as one of the Jester’s Court of Fools, the group they enlist to help them enact the ultimate senior prank, Lily sees it as an opportunity to let loose for the first time in her high school career. But when she finds out that the Jester is none other than her ex-boyfriend Tag, Lily quickly realises that she may be out of her depth. Tag’s plan for the prank sees them embark on a post-midnight adventure around the boarding school, where they slowly begin to unravel their relationship, break-up and lingering feelings as they leave clues, dodge campus security and stay hidden from the other students who have snuck out after dark. But with so much past hurt to untangle, Lily can only hope that a night of breaking the rules will help her mend her broken heart.

I’d never been able to pretend with Tag; it had always been all or nothing with him. But for the Jester’s sake, I knew I had to try, no matter how treacherous it already felt and how painful it would be in the end.” 

What Happens After Midnight is a novel that does exactly what it says in its blurb, so if you’re looking for a story that delivers twists, turns and surprises at every stage, this isn’t the book for you. The majority of this novel takes place over the course of one night, and while other characters come and go for various different reasons along the way, at its heart are Lily and Tag, giving them the opportunity to relive their past relationship, reminisce on the good times, the inside jokes and all the ways in which it felt easy, as well as begin to unpick where everything went wrong, what led to the break-up and what’s happened with each of them in the months since.

This book is less plot-driven action and more a character-driven deep dive. The narrative dips into the past with memories and flashbacks unfolding alongside the present day prank storyline which, while not entirely seamless, does help to capture Lily’s own jumbled emotions on this particular night. It can make for a confusing read and it doesn’t always work well here, interrupting the flow of the story for just a paragraph or two before picking it back up, leaving readers feeling disoriented and with the feeling that a lot has been skipped over.

So much of Lily and Tag’s relationship grounding ends up taking place off-page, in the past that we don’t see, and while the sense of the shared history is ever present, it feels like there were so many opportunities to explore Lily and Tag’s relationship in more detail that Walther just didn’t take. I would have liked to have seen the introduction of Tag’s point of view in particular, as Lily’s sole narration does also have the consequence of making this relationship story very one-sided.

Even so, What Happens After Midnight still carries with it all the hallmarks of a quick-paced teen read that will delight readers all summer long. Between Lily and Tag’s hopeful second chance romance, the all-night campus adventure, plenty of references to Taylor Swift and Schitt’s Creek, and there being more than a few nods towards Gilmore Girls too, this is a novel that promises – and, crucially, delivers – a very fun reading experience, and readers will inevitably find themselves swept up in the narrative before long.

It does feel like there are a lot of things left unsaid here, and a slightly rushed ending doesn’t tie up the story quite as completely as it wants to, but What Happens After Midnight is ultimately a light and hopeful read that captures the feelings of first love, giddy expectations and having a future of possibilities on the horizon.


What Happens After Midnight is published by Sourcebooks Fire on 4 July 2023

View Comment (1)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.