The Barnes & Noble Review
Blue Angel novelist Francine Prose speaks to younger audiences in this unsettling drama about one high school's experiences following a shooting at a neighboring school.
When nearby Pleasant Valley experiences fatal gun violence, Tom Bishop and the other Central High students endure a startling transformation in the name of "safety." With a newly hired guidance counselor -- a frosty Dr. Willard -- aboard, the school installs metal detectors, searches bags, and tests students for drugs, even outlawing the color red because of its gang associations. Students and staff feel jittery about the new procedures, but when parents start acting like "robots" (due to brainwashing emails from the school) and "troubled" kids begin disappearing into "rehabilitation" camps, things are clearly out of control. Thankfully, Tom's parents haven't been reading the emails, and the Bishops wind up hightailing it away from Central for good.
A novel that explores the relation between safety and paranoia -- extending it to a chilling conclusion -- After leaves readers with thought-provoking aftershocks. Prose's overarching message about where privacy and freedom begins and ends is timely, while Tom's confused voice is the perfect narration. A useful springboard for talks about a tough issue. Matt Warner
After a shooting takes place in a Massachusetts high school, a group of friends grow uneasy as the extra security precautions become more and more extreme. PW's starred review called this "a chilling examination of controlling forces undermining individual rights. Sure to spur heated discussions." Ages 10-up. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Following a student shooting rampage at a nearby school, Tom Bishop and the students at Central High are shaken but unaware of the dramatic changes they will soon face. Dr. Willner, a grief counselor, arrives and establishes an increasingly complicated list of rules in the name of school safety. Metal detectors and random drug tests are followed by more extreme restrictions. Certain books and music are barred, and student work is censored. Some students sent to reeducation camps to learn more socially appropriate behaviors instead die during escape attempts. Teachers and even the school's principal disappear after failing to report student infractions to Dr. Willner. Tom longs to return to life as it was before the shootings, but he cannot escape the deadly aftermath. This remarkable book compels the reader along as events quickly grow to a more disturbing level. The balance between individual rights and the safety of the larger group is an important topic, particularly in post-September 11 America. This book is National Book Award finalist Prose's first young adult work, and it is an excellent entry into the genre. The characters are realistically drawn, and their escalating loss of freedom is told in a believable way. Vivid and memorable, it moves at a fast pace despite its length. It would be an excellent candidate for discussion in a reading group. Highly recommended for high school and public libraries, it is a book that readers will not soon forget. PLB
This suspenseful story takes place in a high school after a violent shooting incident (like the one at Columbine High School) occurs in a nearby community. Tom and his friends—called the smart jocks—are the main characters, each one reacting quite believably to the changes in their school after this event. The security is immediately tightened: backpacks are searched, as are lockers. A new person called a grief counselor takes charge and makes new rules. Dissent is not allowed. Random drug tests begin. A favorite teacher disappears. Students who don't cooperate with the authorities are taken away to special camps called turnaround centers, and they are never heard from or seen again. Parents get nightly e-mails from the school and they change personalities—are they being brainwashed somehow? Frequent references are made by Tom and his friends to the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers because the teenagers begin to feel there has been an invasion of sorts...they don't understand what or how. Paranoia builds and the teenagers learn slowly that things are actually worse than their worst fears. The story works, even if in the end it seems closer to SF than to realistic fiction—well, a Ray Bradbury kind of SF. The kinds of rules at the high school are ones that most teenagers would recognize as familiar. There is no reference to 9/11 and Homeland Security, so I'm not sure if Prose is trying to make a larger point about loss of civil liberties in the name of security and where that could lead eventually. She keeps this tightly in the realm of high school culture and high school authority—controlling adolescents. Of course, that is a theme with enormous appeal for most YAs. KLIATT Codes:JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2003, HarperCollins, 330p.,
School Library Journal
Gr 6-10-A school-shooting incident in nearby Pleasant Valley causes Tom's high school administrators to be worried about a ripple effect. A crisis counselor is hired and a watchdog atmosphere grows as the teens' privileges rapidly disappear. Tom and his sophomore classmates are annoyed but not overly concerned about the new security restrictions until they notice eerie disappearances of friends who fail to conform, including Tom's two best friends. The random drug tests, backpack searches, parental e-mail, and dress codes soon expand into mind-controlling daily assemblies, book censorship, and camps for "behavior" problems. After a tip from a Pleasant Valley basketball player, Tom is convinced that students everywhere are being sent away and hopes his father hasn't also been brainwashed via the e-mails from the school authorities. The pace picks up as Tom and friend Becca are caught trying to alert their fellow students to the menacing counselor and know that their lives are at risk. There is suspense in the threat, though readers never learn what has happened to those who disappeared, except for one student who "died." A prosaic style and simple dialogue provide reluctant readers with an opportunity to enjoy a lengthy, frightening story. More mature readers interested in school-violence stories might prefer Joyce Carol Oates's Big Mouth & Ugly Girl (HarperCollins, 2002).-Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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)