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AFTER by Francine Prose


by Francine Prose

Age Range: 14 & up

Pub Date: April 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-008081-7
Publisher: HarperCollins

A disturbing foray into a contemporary America where protection and safety have become labels for repression and murder. In the wake of a killing spree at a school 50 miles away, rules begin to change at Central High. Supposed grief counselor Dr. Willner replaces the old principal, and immediately backpacks are searched, books banned, and clothing regulated. The color red is strictly forbidden (because the killers at the other school wore it), and when one girl refuses to remove the red ribbon she wears in memory of her deceased brother, she is sent away from school—and never returns. Other students and one teacher also disappear as Dr. Willner becomes ever more sinister. “Bus TV,” broadcast during the ride to school, shows revisionist history. Parents neglect to protest even their own children’s disappearances, seemingly because they have been brainwashed by incessant e-mails from the school administration. Across the country, detention camps have been set up where entire groups of teenagers are sent and possibly murdered. Ongoing references to Stalinist Russia and to the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers supply metaphors for the unrecognizably evil and passive adults. The end offers no hint of what will happen next as the remaining main characters flee the town in fear for their lives. Because the narrative is kept faithfully inside the protagonist’s mind, readers are skillfully left just as unsettled, frightened, and confused as he is himself, about both the future and the nature of what exactly is going on. Could have been even scarier if the administrative power had snowballed rather than possessing total control from the beginning, but still an unsettling piece for modern times. (Fiction. YA)