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Holden After and Before - Love Letter for a Son Lost to Overdose

Holden After and Before

Love Letter for a Son Lost to Overdose

By Tara McGuire
Categories: Biography & Memoir, Social Issues
Paperback : 9781551528939, 356 pages, 2022


Holden After and Before is a moving meditation on grief: a stunning book that traces Tara McGuire's excavation and documentation of the life path of her son Holden, a graffiti artist who died of an accidental opioid overdose at the age of twenty-one. Beginning with Holden's death and leaping through time and space, McGuire employs fact, investigation, memory, fantasy, and even fabrication in her search for understanding not only of her son's tragic death, but also of his beautiful life. She navigates and writes across the many blank spaces to form a story of discovery and humanity, examining themes of grief, pain, mental illness, trauma, creative expression, identity, and deep, unending love inside just one of the thousands of deaths that have occurred as a result of the opioid crisis.

With poignant honesty and a heart laid bare, Holden After and Before is a beautiful and moving elegy to a son lost to overdose.


  • Short-listed, Vancouver Book Award 2023


In this unforgettable book, Tara McGuire weaves together two strands: her own story of mourning the death of her son Holden, a talented graffiti artist, and the imagined story of Holden's life. It is deeply moving, and it feels true - not in the sense of being documentary, but in the sense that art strives to share truth about the world and our time in it. At the end of the book Holden's friends paint a mural portrait of him and add his name on the wall. In this remarkable testament, Tara has found her own signature as an artist, etched from love. -Alix Ohlin, author of We Want What We Want

Holden After and Before is a brave, honest, unspeakably painful but simultaneously beautiful attempt by a 'mother who was a light bulb striking pavement' to come to terms with her young son's life and death. Once I began reading, I could not tear myself from this account, which offers a rich tapestry of memoir and fiction - basically, anything Tara McGuire could recall, discover or imagine - about her son Holden, who died accidentally at age twenty-one after he ingested a toxic mix of alcohol and heroin. As I read, Tara McGuire enveloped me with her empathy, her desperate hunger to make sense of the senseless, and her humanity. She inspired me with her courageous and unflinching journey - in the wake of any parent's worst nightmare - to become a writer as a means of honouring her lost son. -Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes

Holden After and Before is both an honest, searching exploration of maternal grief and a deeply felt investigation into the meaning of motherhood itself. If you have raised a child, you will find yourself on every page of this book. -Joanna Rakoff, author of My Salinger Year

Loss is a sledgehammer - and also a feather. This is what Tara's book so aptly walks the reader through: the unimaginable weight of pain that one endures when one suddenly and tragically experiences the death of a beloved child. Learning to swim in an ocean of grief is not something any of us wants to do, but at some point, grief will find us all and reshape our future. This book is both a love letter and a secret diary. I enjoyed it greatly. -Jann Arden, author of Feeding My Mother: Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen as My Mom Lives with Memory Loss

Grief electrifies Holden After and Before. Composed of fearsome, volatile particles - disbelief, anger, shock, doubt, regret, guilt, anguish, depression, sadness - grief pulses and surges. In first-time author Tara McGuire's experience, grief appears to subside but returns in an absolute fury. It is maddening and overwhelming, a primal force. -Toronto Star

I thought I had grasped the profound pain caused by the current opioid crisis, but that was before I read Holden After and Before. -Literary Review of Canada

Documenting the beautiful life and tragic opioid overdose of her son, a twenty-one-year-old graffiti artist, Tara McGuire uses fiction, supposition, and speculation to sculpt a loving memory of an artist, an addict, a boyfriend, a friend, and a son. This book will haunt you in the very best and most terrible of ways. -Ivan Coyote, The Walrus ("Favourite Books of 2022")

A powerful and inventive memoir ... McGuire weaves fact and imagination together to paint a moving and vivid picture of Holden, without allowing his tragic death to solely define his life. -The Globe and Mail

McGuire's writing reminds us that behind every death statistic there is a complex story, one that’s both meaningful and heartbreaking. -Quill and Quire