It takes a talented writer to inject new life in to the well worn coming of age genre. It so happens that Ciarán West is just that talented, and then some. He takes a shopworn concept and spins it into a 350 page story that moves by so quickly it’s over before you’ve had time to properly say goodbye to the characters.
Sweetness Follows is a sequel to West’s previous novel The Boys of Summer. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to have read that one, of course you should though (buy it here!), in order to enjoy this new one. Richie was the main character last time around and he does feature in a supporting role in Sweetness Follows. The story takes place in summer 5 years later and centers on Jon, the rather aimless 15 year old lead singer of a local band. After a night of heavy partying Jon ends up with Áine during a chance meet up. The next day Jon has no memory of the night before and gets concerned when he finds out Áine has gone missing.
The mystery however is not the focus of the story. Most of it is dedicated to Jon and his friends partying, practicing for an upcoming Battle of the Bands, and largely just navigating life as teenagers in 1994 small town Ireland. This could grow repetitive but West writes dialogue and characters that immediately draw you in to their world. Where the first book had an element of Stand by Me to it, Sweetness Follows has The Commitments in its DNA and it is all the stronger for it. There is also a stronger romantic element in this installment. Through a bit of a meet cute Jon ends up dating Caoimhe, a lovely girl from the posh side of town. Jon and Caoimhe’s relationship is surprising and sweet and serves as the heart of the tale.
If I had a complaint about Sweetness Follows it would be that I wish the mystery had been more prevalent throughout the narrative. There were times reading that I thought a scene was being set up for Jon to put himself in danger trying to investigate some shady characters but it never really happens. When Áine’s disappearance is brought up I found myself going, “Oh yeah, that.” before it inevitably faded back in to the background until coming to the fore in the conclusion as everything is revealed. I think the impact would have been stronger if there had been a build to the revelations. However this is a minor quibble for a novel that is enjoyable from start to finish.
Sweetness Follows is the best novel yet from Ciarán West. Great characters, colorful and hilarious dialogue, and great use of the early 90’s setting. Sweetness Follows continues The Boys of Summer series in a surprising way and I can’t wait to see where the story goes next. In a word, it’s grand.