After the First Death

After the First Death

by Robert Cormier

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback - Reprint)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780440208358
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 02/28/1991
Series: Laurel-Leaf Bks.
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 282,733
Product dimensions: 4.19(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.62(d)
Lexile: 740L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Robert Cormier (1925–2000) changed the face of young adult literature over the course of his illustrious career. His many books include The Chocolate WarI Am the CheeseFadeTendernessAfter the First DeathHeroesFrenchtown Summer, and The Rag and Bone Shop. In 1991 he received the Margaret A. Edwards Award, honoring his lifetime contribution to writing for teens.

Date of Birth:

January 17, 1925

Date of Death:

November 2, 2000

Place of Birth:

Leominster, Massachusetts

Place of Death:

Leominster, Massachusetts


Fitchburg State College

Read an Excerpt

I keep thinking that I have a tunnel in my chest. The path the bullet took, burrowing through the flesh and sinew and whatever muscle the bullet encountered (I am not the macho-muscled type, not at five eleven and one hundred eighteen pounds). Anyway, the bullet went through my chest and out again. The wound has healed and there is no pain. The two ends of the tunnel are closed although there's a puckering of the skin at both ends of the tunnel. And a faint redness. The puckering has a distinct design, like the old vaccination scar on my father's arm. Years from now, the wound will probably hurt the way my father's old wounds hurt him, the wounds he received in those World War Two battles. My mother always jokes about the wounds: oh, not the wounds themselves but the fact that he professes to forecast weather by the phantom pains and throbbings in his arms and legs.

Will my wound ache like his when I am his age?

And will I be able to tell when the rain will fall by the pain whistling through the tunnel in my chest?

I am joking, of course, but my joking is entirely different from my mother's tender jokes.

I am joking because I won't have stayed around become a human barometer or an instrument capable of forecasting weather.

But - who's the joke on?

The first of many questions about my presence here.

Keep a scorecard handy.

My father is scheduled to visit me today.

His first visit since the Bus and the Bridge last summer.

I am typing this in the room at Castle and it's beautiful here as I write this. Through the window, I can see the quadrangle and the guys indulging in a snowball fight. The first snowfall of the season. The snow is late this year. Christmas is only two weeks away. Thanksgiving was dry and cold with a pale sun in the sky but no wind. Perfect for a football game, the traditional game between Castle and Rushing Academy. Castle won, 21 to 6, and there was a big celebration on campus. Elliot Martingale brought these fireworks back from summer vacation; they were left over from July 4th at his family's place on Cape Cod, and he said they would be touched off when we won the big game on Thanksgiving Day. We won, he set them off. Beautiful. That's when I went to the john, swallowed fourteen sleeping pills, lay down on the bed listening to the cherry bombs explode and then a cluster of firecrackers going off like a miniature machine gun; and it was nice lying there, drifting away, and then I thought of the kids on the bus, strewn around like broken toys while the guns went off, and I started getting sick and rushed off to the bathroom to vomit.

Please do not consider these the notes of a self-pitying freak who needs the services of a psychiatrist.

I am not filled with pity for myself. And I'm not writing this to cop a plea of some kind.

I do not consider this a suicide note either.

Or even a prelude to one.

When the time comes to perform the act, I will do it without any prelude or prologue, and may simply walk up River Road one afternoon, arrive at Brimmler's Bridge, calmly climb the parapet or whatever it's called, and let myself plummet to the riverbed below.

I have deduced, reflecting on the Bus, that this would be the best way to shuffle off this mortal coil. Poetic justice, you see. Perhaps that's what I should have done when I was sent out to the Bus. The Bus was also on a bridge. That's when I should have taken the plunge, the dive, or the leap. The Bridge on which the Bus was perched is even higher than Brimmler's Bridge. Just think how I would have saved the day - and myself - that way.

And my father most of all.

But how many times is a person allowed to die?

Anyway, my parents are scheduled to arrive here late this morning.

Eleven o'clock to be exact.

My father's first visit since the Bus and the Bridge, but I already said that, didn't I?

My mother has been faithful about visiting. My mother is kind and witty and stylish. She is the essence of the loving wife and mother. She has such amazing strength, an inner strength that has nothing to do with the flexing of muscles. I always sensed it, even as a kid. My father has strength, too. But he has always been too shadowy to pin down. The nature of his profession, I realize now. His is the kind of profession that not only disguises the man but consumes him as well. And his family, too. Even my mother, with all her strength.

When she visited me the first time in September only a few days after my arrival, she played it cool and calm, and this is just what I needed

"Do you want to talk about it, Mark?" she asked.

My name is Ben, my father's name is Mark. If it had been anyone but her, I would have called it a Freudian slip. But she is too uncomplicated for that kind of thing.

I wondered how much she knew about what happened on the bridge. "I'd rather not talk about it," I said. "Not just yet."

"Fine," she said, matter-of-factly, settling down for the visit, arranging her dress over her knees. She has beautiful legs and she is utterly feminine. She never wears slacks or pants suits, always skirts or dresses, even when she does housecleaning. She asked me about school and the classes and the guys, and I told her, talking mechanically, as if my mouth had nothing to with the rest of my body. I told her about Mr. Chatham, who is my math teacher and might have taught my father a generation ago. This is one of the benefits of attending your father's alma mater, my mother said, when she drove me up here last fall. She said I would be able to gather new insights on my father. I didn't tell her that Mr. Chatham is practically senile, the butt of a thousand boyish and not-so-boyish pranks and jokes, and that he didn't remember my father at all. I had suggested the possibility to him. "My name is Ben Marchand," I'd told him, "and my father came to Castle back before World War Two - do you remember him?"

"Of course, dear boy," he said, "of course."

But I did not believe him. His eyes were glazed and vacant, his hand shook, and he always seems about to leap out of harm's way. Which is reflex action. Guys like Elliot Martingale and Biff Donateli rejoice in making old Catham's last days lively. We keep him on his toes, keep him sharp, keep him from dropping into complete senility, Elliot says. How can a man drop out when he thinks a cherry bomb's going to go off in his pants any minute?

Anyway, I started to lie to my mother about Mr. Chatham and his nonexistent memories of my father. "He remember Dad as a good student," I said. "Serious. Never fooled around much in class. A shy, sensitive lad: those were his exact words." I tried to imitate Mr. Chatham's rusty old voice: "A little too thin for his height, lad, but you could see he would fill out someday and be an outstanding man."

I could see immediately that she didn't believe me. She has many admirable qualities but she would never succeed as an actress. The disbelief was apparent in her eyes and in the expression on her face.

"Isn't Dad sensitive and wasn't he a good student?" I asked. "He must have been. He's a general now, isn't he?"

"You know your father doesn't like to be called a general," she said.

"True," I said, and felt myself drifting away from her, something I have been doing recently, drifting away while standing still, letting myself go as if the world is a huge blotter and I am being absorbed by it. "But he is a general, isn't he?" I asked, persisting, suddenly not wanting to drift away, not at this particular moment, wanting to make a point. What point?

And then my mother's strength asserted itself. "Ben," she said, her voice like the snapping of a tree branch. It reminded me of old movies on television where someone is screaming hysterically but I must admit that I was hysterical all right. You can be hysterical without screaming or ranting and raving, or hitting your head against a wall. You can be quietly hysterical sitting in a dorm talking to your mother, watching the September sun climbing the wall like a ladder as it filters in through a sagging shutter. And the slap doesn't have to be a physical act; it can be one word, Ben, your own name lashing out. Yet she did it with love. I have always been assured of her love. And even as I responded to her shouted Ben, snapping me back from the drifting, I still said to myself: But he is a goddam general, whether he likes it or not, and that's why I'm here.

So we carried on a fairly normal conversation. About my classes, the guys: Yes, Mother, they're a good bunch. They leave me alone, mostly because I've come on the scene too late and it's hard to absorb me (they are not blotters, after all), but they are tactful, which surprised me really. I mean, Elliot Martingale is such a character with his clowning and all, and yet he came up to me the other day and said: "Marchand, old bastard, I looked up the back issues of the papers the other day and you're all right, know that?"

I felt either like bawling like a baby or laughing madly; either way, he'd think I was a complete nut. I felt like bawling because those were the first words anyone at Castle had said directly to me and they confirmed my existence here, something I was beginning to doubt. Until that moment, I might have been invisible or not there at all. And I felt like laughing madly because what Martingale said was so very wrong. What Elliot Martingale read about in the papers, my part in the Bus and the incident at the Bridge, was a million miles from the truth. Not lies exactly, of course. But information that was misleading, vague where it should be specific, specific where it should be vague. Inner Delta is very good at that sort of thing, of course.

There, I've said it: Inner Delta

Like pulling a bandage off a festering sore.

Or a diseased rabbit from a soiled magician's hat.

Which, of course, is treason on my part, both as a son to my father and as a citizen of my country.

But do I really have a country?

And do I have citizenship anywhere?

I am a skeleton rattling my bones, a ghost laughing hollow up the sleeves of my shroud, a scarecrow whose straw is soaked with blood.

So much for the dramatics.

My name is Benjamin Marchand, son of Brigadier General and Mrs. Marcus L. Marchand. Although I am temporarily lodged at Castleton Academy in Pompey, New Hampshire, my home is at 1245 Iwo Jima Avenue, Forta Delta, Massachusetts.

Stick around. I may pass out picture postcards any moment now.


Table of Contents

Introduction; Text; Glossary; Activities

Reading Group Guide

In Robert Cormier’s unforgettable novels, an individual often stands alone, fighting for what is right–or just to survive–against powerful, sinister, and sometimes evil people. His books look unflinchingly at tyranny and the abuse of power, at treachery and betrayal, at guilt and forgiveness, love and hate, and the corruption of innocence. Cormier’s gripping stories explore some of the darker corners of the human psyche, but always with a moral focus and a probing intelligence that compel readers to examine their own feelings and ethical beliefs.

The questions that follow are intended to spur discussion and to provoke thoughtful readers to contemplate some of the issues of identity, character, emotion, and morality that make Cormier’s books so compelling.

1. This novel is told from multiple points of view. Why do you think Cormier has chosen this type of narration?

2. Why does Artkin say it is necessary for Miro to "bury" his real name forever? Are Miro and Artkin burying anything else?

3. Which characters do you sympathize with and why? Do you have a clear-cut sense of right and wrong at the end of this novel?

4. What role does the notion of "manhood" serve? Why does Miro want to achieve this status so badly? Miro thinks that Kate is trying to manipulate him when she says "it's sad not to trust anyone." Why does Miro have to shut this statement out of his mind?

5. How does a concept of duty (to Artkin, to his nation) affect Miro's conception of self, of individuality? How does duty affect the general and his actions in regard to his son? Why does he volunteer his son for the mission?

6. Betrayal is a prominent theme throughout the novel. Do you think the general betrayed his son? Who else betrays or is betrayed? How and why? How does this betrayal compare to the betrayals that happen in the other three books (Carter and Archie, Goober and Jerry, Brother Leon and Caroni, Adam and the government).


In Robert Cormier’s unforgettable novels, an individual often stands alone, fighting for what is right–or just to survive–against powerful, sinister, and sometimes evil people. His books look unflinchingly at tyranny and the abuse of power, at treachery and betrayal, at guilt and forgiveness, love and hate, and the corruption of innocence. Cormier’s gripping stories explore some of the darker corners of the human psyche, but always with a moral focus and a probing intelligence that compel readers to examine their own feelings and ethical beliefs.

The questions that follow are intended to spur discussion and to provoke thoughtful readers to contemplate some of the issues of identity, character, emotion, and morality that make Cormier’s books so compelling.

Customer Reviews

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After the First Death 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
DF6B_SamG on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This book is about three teenagers whose lives are intertwined in a situation. One is a busdriver whose bus is hijacked, one is a hijacker of the bus, and the other is a son of a general who is used for negotiating. I liked this book because it was interesting and had things I could relate to in it.
meggyweg on LibraryThing 5 months ago
When he wrote this book in the 1970s, Cormier had no idea how relevant it would still be twenty-five years later, in our post 9-11 world. One of the most amazing things about After the First Death is the author's ability to make you understand and even sympathize with characters who do terrible things. I didn't like Artkin, or Miro, or Mark, but I could understand them. And I could certainly sympathize with Kate and Ben's uncertainty and fear and desire to be brave and do the right thing. By the end, nearly every major character is dead. But a happy ending to this story simply wasn't possible.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to read it for school, and I enjoyed it greatly
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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janay More than 1 year ago
I think the book was about a boy that had a rough life and was telling about it and was also telling about other things that happened like the bus driver and the boy planning the stuff that was going to happen and the man watching what time the bus was coming and watching the bus and the kids on the bus every move. I think this book was meant for high school kids to read and maybe even adults. This book was not meant for middle school kids to read. When I read this book I got kind of confused at the begging and had to read some things over to really get what he was talking about. The characters threw the chapters were confusing too because he would talk about a character and then start talking about another one and try to go back to the character he started with.. it was confusing! At the begging of the story u had to make sure u read the sentences right so that u could get were the story was taking place and who the characters was.I wouldn't tell anyone to go get this book because I think the whole book is confusing. I also think that if you wanted to understand the book you would probably have to read it many different times to really understand it. If my friends would ask me if the book was good and if I think they should read I would tell them no.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Introduction: The book was rather interesting. I had never read a book from Cormier and at first I was very confused but once I got into the book it got really good. I personally am not into death but it was really good. I do not recommend this book to anyone who has a weak stomache or does not care for bad words. I am giving this review to warn readers that it is about death. Description and summary of main points: This story is about a group of men and a few teenagers that take over this school bus. They plan to kill a few kids and the bus driver but not after they found out that the driver is a girl. The kids are pretty much just babies five or six and get drugged by the men. The men take over the bus for about a few days but it seemed longer. Over all I could not put it down once I got into part five and so on. Evaluation: This book was on take over and death. The characters , Arktin, Milo , and Kate are the main characters and Artkin and Milo are the takeovers well at least two of them. Kate is the busdriver who is subbing for her uncle and during the takeover acts like the kids mother. The takeover started at the street but made it to the bridge. I feel that the author wanted to teach that no matter who you are you can stand up for what you believe in and make a difference. I think that the subject was rather deadly and think that with his skills he could have written a better story on a different subject. Conclusion:After the First Death was over all a great book. I was confused but ended up understanding the book. The takeover was interesting but kind of scary to me. I did think that Robert Cormier did an excellent job writing this book. Your final review: I liked this book and recommend it to anyone interesting in death stories. It was very well written but the order in the chapters were weird but over
bas96 More than 1 year ago
Introduction-I liked most of this book, except for the disturbing parts and the end. One of the main problems with this book is that it's hard to understand what's going on with all the changing perspectives. Description and summary of main points-This book is, in a nutshell, about two men who are fighting for a homeland they have never seen. In their "war", they hijacked a bus full of children to obtain their demands of ten million dollars, a mysterious stone, and information on a secret organization. The book provides many perspectives, such as the son of an army general, one of the hijackers, and the driver of the bus, which can make the story hard to understand. Evaluation-It's very hard to understand the purpose of the story, what with the changing perspectives. As for goals, it would give away too much of the story if I explained the very few goals. Conclusion-I think if you had to chose a book for a project, you should chose After the First death, because though it is a little weird (especially the ending), it is enjoyable and is definitely worth rereading. Your final review-I give this book four stars. As far as other Cormier titles, I encourage you to choose this book first, because it is unforgettable.
Tess35 More than 1 year ago
This book was a page turner. And the realism that this book portrays is amazing. It shows us the maliciousness and curiosity of an assassin, the bravery of a teen girl and the way she can manipulate men...Though it also showed the consistency of the characters. They didn't change throughout the book, which I thought was the best part. It shows that not everyone can change from experience, that it takes more than that to change a life of murder. I mean, truly, I was expecting the young man to fall in love with the girl, but the most brilliant part is that at the end of this novel, you'll be surprised in the most unpredictable way. A trilling novel that I believe everyone should experience.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had to read this book for my English summer reading and it works perfect for the project. I have also read I Am The Cheese which is in the same format where the there are two parts of the story that intertwine. I recommend both books
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the 2nd book I read by him. It was good except that you can pretty much guess what will happen. BUT I still recommend it to anyone who will read it. I rate this book fairly, because it's not the best book I have read by him, but it does explain the importance of family and life in general. A great book for anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It's definitely not one that you can predict the ending to. You will be sitting on the edge of your seat until the last page. The ending isn't necesarily the one you wanted, or expected, but it's definitely exciting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Cormier is my favorite author. I own, literally, at least three copies of each of his novels. This book is one of my favorites. As we read about a 'passive but desperate' group of terrorists, trying to gain the freedom to go back to their homeland by hijacking a schoolbus full of innocent children, we are not only pulled into the story, we are stuck to it until the end. This piece fills us with a sense of urgency that keeps us turning pages until we hit the last. The characters show a broad array of humanity, the need for survival is present on all sides. Yet, there is a common line at stake. The terrorists, while barreling toward their goal, have lost humanity. And the law enforcement have lost a sense of what is or isn't real. Mr. Cormier captures this in a way no one else can.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this book for my 10th grade English Honors class. While many call it disturbing, they are not far off. It is disturbing in a sense that you know what is going to happen, but your conscience tells you 'That isn't possible. How could anyone do this?' This is a book you absolutely must read if you are unsure about what goes on inside the mind of a terrorist. Cormier is a master of doing this. He tells the book from many views, and each one is independant of the others, revealing something you coundn't get it the book was written from a 3rd person point of view. It goes into great depth to not only describe the actions a teen would likely go through if they were in a similar event, but also shows how a teen can be so affected by their childhood: between the brainwashed Miro, the near regular American girl Kate, and the son of a General who doesn't get many chances to see his father, Ben. You will be pushed to read more, especially if you have strong morals. This book is captivating in a jaw-dropping manner, never ceasing to surprise the reader. Unbelievable: the only way to describe this book. Period.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Right now I'm reading 'After The First Death' in my Credit Recovery class. I'm only at part 5 but I already like this book. The way the author put the words were very descriptive and caught my eye. After reading a bit of it I got hooked and just wanted to read more and more. I can't wait to see how the story ends. Great job Mr. Cormier!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I chose this book from the school library because the title looked interesting. I soon found out that the title wasn't the only thing that caught my attention. This book was amazingly well written and it made my day. Great book Mr.Cormier!
Guest More than 1 year ago
IT was such an awesome book. I don't read much, and don't usually enjoy reading but this book hooked me and i couldn't put it down
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. He had this way of getting into the characters minds. I felt as if I was in their place. I especially love Part 7.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Well, i loved Mr. Cormier's 'The Chocoalte War' and i wanted to read others. This was the third book i read of his. It was sooo boring i couldn't make it through. Some of the discriptions are like stone, they're not interesting, but good if that makes sense. i couldn't even make it through the whole book. BUt hey that was just me....
Guest More than 1 year ago
i found this book not confusing at all(as others did) it was also not boring, it kept me interested since almost the first page. i was kind of disapointed with the ending, but the whole book was full of action and suspense. there was some romance in there too, but not much. over all it was an AWESOME book, and it kept me hooked!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
very good master of suspense once i read the first page i would not stop untill the last
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the best book that i have read in my life it was so detailed and you never new what was going to happen next. I would really recommend this book to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
well im in year 10, and we are just finished, and now we have to write are essay on it, i think the but is way 2 confussing and it finishes abit boring!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ok i had to read this book for a school project and it sucks. We are doing a decade project and we have to read a book that happened in our decade. I'm doing the 70's. Then we have to find exact lines in the book that are talking about what happened in the 70;s. uhh so far i dont like the book! But thats my opinion