Saturday, July 3, 2004
Prose, Francine. 2003. AFTER. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 0060080825 [Suggested Grade Levels 8-12]
SUMMARY and ANALYSIS
Combining conspiracy theory and, part mystery, AFTER presents life at Central High School for Tom Bishop and his friends after a shooting incident takes place at nearby Pleasant Valley High School. In reaction to the shootings psychologist Mr. Willner steps in to ensure that a similar event will not happen at Central. Willner brings with him a totalitarian hand, armed guards, metal detectors, and an increased feeling of paranoia. The world of Central High School is turned upside down- classrooms are bugged, parents are brainwashed by e-mails, the principal disappears, the students can no longer wear red, lockers are searched, books and CDs are confiscated, and students die mysteriously after being sent to rehabilitation camps. Teachers are in danger as well. A popular history teacher disappears after letting a contraband cell phone ring in class. The basketball coach is forced to conduct random drug tests on his players. Everyone feels the vice-like grip of Mr. Willner’s scrutiny. Creativity is stifled and deviation from the rules is not tolerated. Eventually most of the students fall into line. Tom begins to suspect that Willner is manipulating the student body, not counsel bereaved students. His minor incursions put him in constant conflict with the nefarious Mr. Willner.
As formula dictates, Tom finally convinces his parents of the brainwashing going on at Central. The Bishops leave with a few of Tom’s friends just as Willner’s trap starts to close in around them. Tom is a likeable hero, and because he is neither the typical “perfect kid,” nor the “rebellious youth,” he is easy for readers to relate to. He is loyal to his friends and family, but he is not perfect. He does not save the day, but he does try to save his loved ones. AFTER is suspenseful, dramatic, and fast-paced. Readers will appreciate the opportunity to scrutinize the authoritarian nature of school rules without having to follow such a stringent system or live under the extreme oppression depicted at Central High School. It also allows readers to think about the consequences of violence in schools without being didactic or condescending.
Encourage readers to investigate how different leaders throughout history have been able to persuade groups of people to follow or obey them. Discuss how various historical figures were able to take advantage of a tragic or chaotic event to come into power and affect change.
Other stories about violence at school and surviving the aftermath:
Koertge, Ron. THE BRIMSTONE JOURNALS. ISBN 0763613029
Strasser, Todd. GIVE A BOY A GUN. ISBN 0689848935
By Lea Ann Gilbert