April 2003

A post-9/11 look at school security

By Steven Brill
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A new recruit to the growing ranks of noted novelists tackling the young adult genre, best-selling author Francine Prose picks a timely topic: the tradeoff between security measures and personal freedom, particularly as they pertain to the daily routines of high school. It occurred to her post-9/11, as she notes in a foreword, that "the problematic aspects of our new lives baggage searches, metal detectors, incursions on our privacy were already part of our children’s lives, and had been for some time." In the wake of Columbine and comparable tragedies, students have come to expect certain infringements on their range of motion and self-expression. With After, Prose expands on this trend to create a semi-realistic scenario of escalating repression. Tom Bishop’s high school, Central, doesn’t seem to have any egregious problems at least none that the administration can’t handle using common sense. Once a shooting spree occurs at a school 50 miles away, however, it’s a whole new regime, spearheaded by one Dr. Willner, an ostensible grief counselor and certifiable control freak.

Prose deftly portrays the gradual erosion of seemingly petty privileges among 15-year-old Tom and his self-styled "smart-jock" friends: dress codes become draconian; drug testing is implemented; Catcher in the Rye is excised from the curriculum. Parents are deluged with cautionary e-mails. "If the school is going a little overboard to make sure its students are safe," Tom’s father rationalizes, "maybe that’s not so bad." But things take a different turn when students and teachers begin disappearing.

Prose seems to have perfect pitch for how today’s adolescents think, talk and act. As she nudges the book towards an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style denouement the 1956 classic happens to be a special favorite of Tom’s stoner friend Silas Prose forces her readers to consider the cost of sacrificing freedom for security. A chilling novel for young readers, After will definitely get kids talking.


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By Steven Brill
Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9780743237093

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