Dorothy's List: Rebecca Rupp Tackles Tough Themes In 'After Eli'

Apr 7, 2014

Vermont author Rebecca Rupp takes us inside a transformative summer for Danny Anderson, when he makes a set of new friends who help him overcome his grief in the novel After Eli.

Danny was 11 years old when his brother Eli was killed during the war in Iraq. With his parents lost in their own grief, Danny devises a way of trying to make sense of his brother's death. He creates a Book of the Dead, chronicling and categorizing the deaths of people throughout history. It isn't until Isabelle and her family come from New York City to spend the summer in his small Vermont town that Danny raises his head out of his Book of the Dead and learns to live again.

This month, Dorothy's List followed along with author Rebecca Rupp as she visited  seventh graders at Stowe Middle School who were reading After Eli.

These are some of the questions that Stowe Middle School students asked of author Rebecca Rupp:

Ethan Barrett: I think the Book of the Dead was a great incorporation into the book. I was fascinated how you thought of bringing that into this book and how sometimes the death kind of connected into the chapter and sometimes it didn’t have any relevance, or at least I didn’t think so. Did the death at the beginning of the chapter, was it supposed to have a relevance with the rest of the chapter?

Rupp: I tried really hard to see that it did. But in some cases it was a bit of a stretch. I did a lot of researching into deaths while I was writing this book. And to find the right connection was really difficult. But, yeah, they were supposed to all connect. Some of them didn’t quite work out as well as others, but I was hoping most of them were pretty close.

Shane McGinnis: Why is Eli’s father so strict? Was your father strict, or are you trying to tie elements of your life into the book?

Rupp: I tried to tie elements of my life into the book, but not in terms of the father relationship. But Danny’s father, you know, I’m not sure I’d exactly call him strict. He’s more like disconnected. He’s busy. He’s occupied with other things. He clearly was more connected to Eli and more invested in Eli than he was in Danny, who’s much younger.

Lindsey Singer: Who were you more like growing up? Danny, who’s more like he’s got friends and he doesn’t really care about school, or Eli, who is dedicated to school, had a plan, had a dream, knew what he wanted to do?

Rupp: Definitely Eli. I was also the oldest. So, I got to boss the younger sibling around. He didn’t always boss very well, I've got to say. Yeah, Eli. I was a really driven student. Really pretty set on heading into science and going to grad school and the whole shebang.

Noah Levine: When writing the book, there were a lot of emotional parts. Did you have to incorporate some experiences in your life into the book?

Rupp: Always, always. You always dredge into your feelings, your childhood, your experiences. Things that have upset you terribly in the past. Yes, you use all that. And in a way you write it out. You know, it helps you go through it just watching Danny go through it. So, yeah.

Annie Schafer: John Green’s books are very similar to yours. Did he inspire you to write something similar to his books?

Rupp: That is such a compliment, because I love John Green’s books. I suppose that so many books go into my writing. You know, I think most writers are bookworms. And so you get bits and pieces, you get scraps of ideas from all kinds of places. And I can’t say specifically that there was a piece of John Green’s books that connected me to writing After Eli, but in bulk, your whole reading always goes into what you’re writing.

Emma Hinkson: You ended After Eli neatly, almost like a happy ending. All questions were answered. What is your reasoning behind the neat ending?

Rupp: You know, I didn’t see it as a totally neat ending. I didn’t think that Danny had really yet come to grips with losing Eli. He had become resigned ... He’d come to the realization that his life was going to go on. He discovered new friends. He discovered a new passion. And things were going to move ahead. You know, like with the example of the Civil War death, where the dead girl’s mother went ahead the next day and baked bread. And Danny first thought that was so heartless and then he said, “Well, no.” When he thought about it he thought it was the right thing to do because life goes on and people have to eat. I think that’s where he reached that conclusion.

About The Book

Some people die heroically, others accidentally. When Daniel Anderson’s older brother dies, he wonders which category Eli’s death falls into. In an attempt to understand, Danny creates a Book of the Dead – an old binder that he fills with details about dead people, how they died and, most importantly, for what purpose. Time passes, and eventually Daniel is prompted to look up from his notebook of death to make new friends and be swept into their imaginings. With gentle humor and genuine emotion, Rebecca Rupp examines the questions that arise following a profound loss and describes the moments when that start life rolling again.

Dorothy’s List is VPR’s book club for kids. Each month we highlight a book nominated for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award. We visit schools and libraries where the book is being read, check out how young readers are interacting with the book and relay students’ questions to the author.

Dorothy's List is sponsored by the VPR Journalism Fund.