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A Book Review
by Joy Renee

 

After
By Francine Prose
© 2003
Harper Tempest
330p

Genre: Young adult; coming of age; civil rights and students

An eerie story. A kind of parable of what is going on in America at large. The sense of something incredibly off key was reminiscent of the state of affairs in our nation today. It is high-school as microcosm and metaphor. The something wrong slips up on you bit by bit and by the time you realize you are royally screwed it is too late. A Columbine type incident happens at a high school fifty miles from the town of the teen narrator of the story. And immediately their school implements a whole slew of new rules. Metal detectors and bag and body searches. Random drug tests. Clothing codes like no red except the red in American flag pins. No cell phones. No chewing gum.  A list of disapproved of books and music which they cannot have on school property. Catcher in the Rye among them. Holden Caulfield is suddenly a bad role model for teenagers. (This sentiment I can sympathize with; but not the censorship.)

Books start disappearing out of the library. They put TVs on the school buses that spew out alternative history lessons. Like claiming that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were desolate unpopulated areas when the U.S. dropped the atom bombs on them. But the TV’s also masked cameras that were monitoring the kids. One of the narrator’s friends is caught making a dissident comment and is shipped off to reform school. The school inundates the parents with nightly emails that seem to hypnotize them to the point that they were unable to contradict the authorities at the school or stand up for their kids. Kids that defied the rules were sent to reform camps and never came back. A teacher that defied the rules one time also disappeared. No explanation. And something was definitely strange about the ‘retirement’ of the principle. All the enforcement of the rules was done by the new ’grief’ councilor provided free by the state after the tragedy.

Altogether a spooky situation. And it ended on a spooky note. The narrator risks loosing everything by sitting his dad and his dad’s fiancé down and explaining the situation in graphic detail. He is hoping that his dad had not been captured by the school’s emails and the fiancé had not been exposed to them. The three of them decide to go check out the high school where the tragedy had happened to see about the rumors that the student body and all but disappeared. While they were on that school’s property his dad’s cell phone rang and it was the grief councilor suggesting the father and son meet with him at his office the following day, Sunday, to discuss their unwarranted interest in the other school. This convinces the father that it is too far gone to get help inside the community. They return to their house and pack as for a long weekend camping trip. His father asked if he had friends that might be interested in going. There was his girlfriend and the last of his buddies not already sent away. His buddy had to sneak away from his home as his parents were already snared by the school’s email brainwashing but his girlfriend’s mother had been like his father who had not given the emails much attention. His father had stopped reading them because they were too time consuming, she had stopped because the theme of whittled away freedoms and the justifications for it made her uncomfortable and angry. She asked to come along. So the six of them piled into the fiancé’s van and left town. And that is how the book ended.

It may seem I have given away more than is proper for a book review that hopes to entice readers to pick it up for themselves. But this synopsis cannot take the place of the experience of reading the story and being immersed into a certain milieu, familiar to anyone who ever attended high-school in America, and then experience that milieu being deformed out of all recognition in such slow increments that most were like frogs put into cold water that is slowly brought to a boil--they never bestirred themselves, having no sense of danger. Someone should make a movie of this story. It is a parable of what is happening with America since 9/11.

© 2004 by Joy Renee Davis

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