Massive Chaos After

Liana Teixeira

In the novel After, by Francine Prose, after nearby Pleasant Valley High School experienced a fatal gun shooting, which was later compared to the Columbine shooting, student Tom Bishop began noticing some startling changes at his own school: Central High.

At first, the new rules are negligible: grief counseling, metal detectors, and emails warning parents and students of gun safety. Soon, however, Tom realizes that everything in his life is changing too quickly.  Metal detectors, random drug tests, and locker and bag searches are now being enforced.  Even wearing the color red is banned, because it is believed to encourage negative attitudes and gang activity.          

Who is in charge of all these changes? It is none other than the newly hired head guidance counselor, Dr. Willard. Thinking these rules are meant to keep everyone safe, many students overlook the constricting guidelines.  However, once their parents begin agreeing with everything the school board says, due to the brainwashing emails sent by Central High, and the school “trouble-makers” are sent to Operation Turnaround, Tom and his friends know things are spiraling out of control.  

The true danger is finally realized when reports come back from the teen boot camp.  One of Tom’s friends has died, his death being ruled as an “unfortunate accident.” However, Tom and his friends know that he was killed trying to escape. They are now convinced that escaping is the only thing they can do in order to avoid being captured and brought to a similar fate. 

The author, Francine Prose, does an excellent job in conveying the thin line between safety and obsession.  She exposes a radical world, one based on control and perfection.  The title, After, symbolizes all the events occurring after the Pleasant Valley shooting and shows how one event can cause massive chaos within our living environments. 

More importantly, Prose’s underlying message in the story emphasizes the protection of civil liberties.  When the students are prevented from speaking and acting out against authority, the loss of First Amendment rights is clearly evident.  Prose offers an extremist setting for readers, one that examines the importance of civil liberties and how they must not be taken for granted.  A thought-provoking read from beginning to end, After largely encompasses a mix of teenage rebellion and dictatorial influence, which leaves readers shaken and intrigued.