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Spotlight on: After the First Death by Robert Cormier

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After the First Death by Robert Cormier Robert Cormier, After the First Death

I have been slowly working my way through the "young adult" works of Robert Cormier, who wrote controversial works like The Chocolate War among others, who made his home in Leominster, Massachusetts (very near where I make my home), and whose work I was not made aware of until I was long past the age of the target audience.

What I am finding is that these novels are surprisingly complex and moving. It is most likely that I would not have appreciated when I was at the age for which they are intended. Luckily, I have now discovered what a terrific writer he is and I recommend his work to mature teens, with the warning that there are many concepts and "images" included in them that are disturbing. Books like After the First Death, with its intense subject matter, are definitely not for younger kids. Cormier does not shy away from the way young people really act when they think no one is watching.

After the First Death is a complex departure from Cormier -- not in its subject matter, but in its delivery. Marketed as a suspense novel, it is more a psychological portrait of three characters involved in a harrowing situation. First up is Ben, who is typing out the story of his relationship with his father and how a particular event affected it and him. Then we meet Miro, a teenage terrorist who is involved in the hostage-taking of a school bus full of children. Driving the bus is Kate, a 16-year-old replacement of the usual driver who is thrust into the midst of this unwittingly.

Cormier develops the story through each person's point-of-view narrative. Small things are revealed as the plot continues, including how all three of their lives intertwine and a secret about Ben that turns the book on its head. After the First Death is a solid entry from Cormier. It is one of his lesser-known titles that is becoming more well-known as it is increasingly assigned for young adult reading. It is likely to be one of the few assigned readings that students will truly enjoy. And for that reason alone, it is worth a look.

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on Ex Libris Reviews. Copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission.

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