as a kid, my most favoritest author ever was robert cormier. perhaps you’ve heard of him, or at least remember his books: i am the cheese (omg, totally convinced me that my family was in the witness protection program), fade (yowsa), the chocolate war (prolly the least worrisome of the bunch, but still completely mind-bending– and banned in many places), and we all fall down (saaaaadness. creepiness.).
my mom absolutely hated my penchant for these freaky deeky books, and often hid them from me. or maybe she just talked smack about them… i tend to editorialize my memories. but anyhoo, i could never figure out her extreme anti-cormier feelings, and i’ve always remembered these books as being pretty great.
and so when we were asked to read ten YA books of various genres for my YA literature class, naturally i decided i’d mix in an old skool thriller. obvi, i immediately thought of mr. cormier’s after the first death. and wow. i must have been a pretty bad @$$ kid (omg, that is so laughably UNTRUE, but like i said, i tend to editorialize), because i lost some serious sleep over this plot last week at age 30. i guess i sort of understand mommy root’s feelings now, although i still a member of team cormier for sure.
Cormier, R. (1979). After the first death. New York: Pantheon Books.
In this story of a bus hijacking by a group of freedom-fighting terrorists, nothing goes exactly as planned: teenaged hijacker Miro’s first assignment is to kill the busdriver (but that doesn’t happen when the busdriver turns out to be seventeen-year-old Kate, subbing for her sick uncle), the children on the bus are given drugged chocolates so that they stay quiet (but then one dies from a drug overdose), and General Mark Marchand sends his son Ben to the hijackers as a messenger in what he thinks is a sound plan to fool them (but the General doesn’t consider the emotional toll that this experience will exact on teenaged Ben). Yikes.
Told from a variety of viewpoints, including the first-person narratives of both Ben and his father, and the third-person depiction of the bus hijacking (with a special focus on hijacker Miro and busdriver Kate), Robert Cormier’s After the First Death is an innovative and disturbing thriller. The book’s teen characters are especially strong, and I found myself drawn to Miro despite his monstrous deeds, because Cormier is able to explain his strangely innocent mindset so effectively. Kate and Ben are equally well-written, and their violent ends are painful to digest. And the terrorist Artkin is one scary bad guy, as each of his deeds seem worse than the last, and his brutal rendering contrasts well with Miro’s innocence. As a teen, I really liked this book, and I liked it as an adult, too, except for one thing: I don’t understand how General Marchand possibly could have sent his own son to a bus of terrorists as a messenger. This does not compute for me. Cormier attempts to explain this (in my opinion) unforgivable action by detailing the General’s intense patriotism and willingness to do anything for his country, but, as an adult, I just can’t buy that explanation. That said, this is a haunting and uncompromising portrayal of terrorism that still shines in our post-9/11 world.
also, in a semi-related piece of amazingness: did you know that robert cormier gave a buttload of money to the public liberry in leominster, ma to build a teen room? they call it the bob. pretty fabulous!