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