I return to you again, with more news from the world of Adolescent Literature novels (see my post from September 27th if you don't know what I'm talking about.) The last one I completed was After by Francine Prose, which I chose as my book to revisit, a requirement of the curriculum. Again, I was surprised at how quickly I became enveloped in the novel. I was also surprised to find that I was a much darker 13-year-old than I seem to remember.
After takes place in a fictional reality (oxymoron, I know) where another school shooting takes place after Columbine. This massacre, however, occurs in Pleasant Valley, Maine and the consequences quickly become more drastic. Under the guise of "helping students cope" with the disaster, the government begins sending "grief and crisis counselors" to every high school. These counselors are there to serve a much darker purpose, however, and quickly begin implementing rules that are much more severe than necessary. Before long, the high schools begin looking much more like police states and students are being shipped away from home indefinitely for even the most minor infractions. Tom and his friends find no one to turn to for help, since their parents seem to have changed overnight into brainwashed robots. It is up to them to find a way to escape their high school without losing everything, including their lives.
Now this book may seem incredibly bleak, especially for a young susceptible teenager, but do not underestimate the abilities of the young. If you read Tara's blog below about banned books, adults are consistently trying to protect teens from the "big bad books" out there. Teens know what is going on, no matter how hard we try to protect them. Allowing teens to read books like After will make them feel empowered and more than likely spark the bibliophile within them.
I would also recommend After to many adults. Eleven years later, it is easy to forget about the effect Columbine has had on schools and students alike. Most of today's high schoolers were only 3 to 6 years old when Columbine happened, so those tragic events that effect their lives daily seem as real as anything out of a history book to them. While it is important to honor the memories of those lost or permanently scarred from the Columbine massacre, it is even more important to consider what steps schools are taking to prevent these events from happening again. After provides a narrative for what high school felt like for those students who were not directly involved. The plot may be exaggerated and overly dramatic, but then what in high school isn't?
Adults interested in After by Francine Prose should also consider Columbine by Dave Cullen as a non-fiction supplemental text. Both can be found at Old Firehouse Books.