After by Francine Prose

28 Feb

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They called what happened at Pleasant Valley a massacre. Dozens of students and teachers gunned down in the school’s gymnasium before anyone knew what was going on. The most terrible thing is that no one saw it coming.

A group of teens, loners, marched into the school wearing trench coats, tracked down the jocks and opened fire. Fifty miles away, the students at Central High reel from the news that something so bizarre could happen at so close to home. However, the students at Central High are about to realize just how bizarre things can be. Overnight, new security measures pop up all over Central High. Students must now enter the school through metal detectors, bags are searched, and inspections are done, all in an effort to prevent what happened at Pleasant Valley from happening at Central High.

After all, you can never be too safe, can you? And then a new Grief and Crisis councillor is hired to aid students in dealing with the tragedy. Dr. Willner seems to change the school overnight, adding new rules and regulations.

No cell phones are allowed, a new dress code is introduced. Central High begins to take on an air of desperation. Tom and his friends Brian, Avery and Silas watch as the school turns from a place of learning to a prison. Their parents begin to receive nightly emails from the school telling them of the possibilities of violence and how to protect their children. They watch the goings on with curiosity. Surely this was all for their safety, wasn’t it? Students are afraid to step out of line. Silas starts talking of a cover up, a conspiracy. Something is wrong in their school and Silas knows it.

Tom, Brian and Avery laugh it off – until the students start to disappear. Willner is taking over their school; they are being watched, observed. If anyone steps out of line, the consequences are severe. Tom learns that this is happening all over the country, students are disappearing without a trace or an explanation, Silas and Avery among them. They are sent to rehab camps, never to return.

Tom thinks this is bad enough until the first student dies. Knowing he is in a race against time, he rallies together with his friend and the class pet, Becca, to try and stand up to the school and to Dr. Willner …

Prose gives us a novel that is at times chilling, at times shocking. It is a slow book that takes its time to hook the reader and draw them in to the story. Once you’re hooked, it won’t let you go. It’s also a stark novel, one that relies more on internal and external dialogue rather than the powers of description. It is also very reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984. Big Brother is watching.

However, there are a few interesting quirks about the novel. There are several things that aren’t clarified or explained. We’re never told whether or not this book is set in the future, for instance, or if it is a fantasy or a satire of real life.

We never find out what happened to the students who have disappeared. Their disappearance remains a mystery even after the book is finished. It isn’t even explained why the school is killing students and treating it’s halls like a prison.

Now, the theme of the book is supposed to be safety gone too far. That’s fine and dandy, but we still could have benefited from some explication. I enjoy fiction where I walk away thinking about what I’ve just read.

However, “After” just leaves too many questions unanswered. There is vagueness to “After” that I found unsettling, that got under my skin; this may have been its desired effect.

In the end, “After” is a pretty good novel. It shows us what can happen when supposed safety measures are taken too far and that Big Brother may not be as unrealistic a portrayal of our society as we once thought.

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3 Responses to “After by Francine Prose”

  1. Jake March 5, 2009 at 12:51 am #

    I also read this book as a class book report and it was very good but also too vague… Thank you for this article it really helped me clear some things up.

    • erika November 4, 2011 at 12:18 am #

      hey jake i read this book also for a book report. And I know what you mean by it helped you cleared sum things out. Trust me… =)

  2. coconut812 June 10, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    i read this book for my novle study class, and now I have to write an essay on it. Any suggested topics? Thanks!

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