After by Anna Todd is a fan fiction novel with characters loosely based on the band members from One Direction. The novel principally features the band’s lead singer, Harry Styles, as the inspiration for main character Hardin, and Anna Todd herself as the inspiration behind the protagonist, Tessa. Todd originally wrote After on Wattpad, a social storytelling platform, but it was adapted as a published novel by Simon and Schuster in 2014. After is now the first novel in a five-book series and was made into a film in 2019. This guide refers to the 2014 print edition.
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Tessa meets Hardin on her first day of college. He’s rude and condescending towards her, nothing like her boyfriend Noah, yet Tessa feels drawn to him. Tessa is eager to make friends, so she starts hanging out with her roommate, Steph, and Steph’s friend group, including Hardin. Tessa goes to a few of their parties, where she drinks, plays Truth or Dare, and admits to the group that she’s a virgin. Even though Tessa’s prim and modest personality is completely opposite Steph and her friends, Tessa feels intrigued by them, especially Hardin. Tessa surprises herself by kissing Hardin one night at a party, which sets in motion a pattern between them. They argue, make amends, agree to hang out as friends, and then end up unable to resist their sexual attraction for each other.
Despite her ongoing relationship with Noah, Tessa comes to Hardin’s rescue one night when he’s angry and drunk at his father’s house. Noah finds out about her relationship with Hardin, yet he gives her a second chance. Even though Tessa resolves to stop seeing Hardin, she can’t resist him, and she eventually breaks up with Noah when Hardin tells her he “needs” her (269).
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As they grow closer, Hardin’s behavior gradually changes, and he becomes more willing to spend time at his father’s house because of Tessa, something he never did before because of a strained relationship with his father since childhood. However, Hardin and Tessa’s new dating relationship only perpetuates their up-and-down pattern of arguments and sexual activity. When Tessa sees Hardin with Molly, a girl he used to fool around with, at a party, she uses Zed, one of Hardin’s friends, to make Hardin jealous. Tessa kisses Zed in front of Hardin and agrees to go on a date with him.
The night of the campus bonfire, Hardin and Tessa confess that they love each other. Over the next few weeks, the dynamic between Tessa and Hardin seems to stabilize. They spend most nights together, and Tessa loses her virginity to Hardin. She begins working at Vance Publishing as an intern, and soon after, moves into an off-campus apartment with Hardin. Not long after they move in together, Hardin stays out all night without telling Tessa where he is. He shows up drunk later the next day having clearly been in a fight, but he refuses to tell Tessa where he’s been. The two have an intense argument, but they eventually make up when Hardin is vulnerable with Tessa, telling her about a traumatic moment from his childhood.
Tessa and Hardin attend Hardin’s father’s wedding together, where they seem happier and closer than ever before. However, Hardin still refuses to tell Tessa why he was in a fight. Tessa searches out Steph and the rest of Hardin’s friends for answers, and a shocking secret comes to light: when he first met Tessa, Hardin made a bet with Zed to see who could take Tessa’s virginity first. At the novel’s conclusion, Tessa is confused, angry, and heartbroken. As Zed drives her home amidst pleas and apologies from Hardin, Tessa asks Zed to “Tell [her] everything” (582).
By Anna Todd