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  • After the First Death
  • Written by Robert Cormier
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  • After the First Death
  • Written by Robert Cormier
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307834249
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After the First Death

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List Price: $6.99


On Sale: March 19, 2013
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-0-307-83424-9
Published by : Knopf Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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Who will be the next to die?

They've taken the children. And the son of a general. But that isn't enough.

More horrors must come...


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.

Robert Cormier

About Robert Cormier

Robert Cormier - After the First Death

Photo © James Patrick Langlands

“I can’t remember a time, really, when I haven’t been a writer. . . . Reading and writing were the two great escapes of my life and I suppose they still are.”—Robert Cormier

Robert Cormier is a Margaret A. Edwards Award winner, and his books repeatedly appear on the best books lists of the American Library Association, The New York Times, and School Library Journal.


Robert Cormier (pronounced kor-MEER) lived all his life in Leominster, Massachusetts, a small town in the north-central part of the state, where he grew up as part of a close, warm community of French Canadian immigrants and lived with his wife, Connie, also from Leominster, and where they raised their three daughters and one son—all adults now. They never saw a reason to leave. “There are lots of untold stories right here on Main Street,” Cormier once said.

A newspaper reporter and columnist for 30 years (working for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and the Fitchburg Sentinel), Cormier was often inspired by news stories. What makes his works unique is his ability to make evil behavior understandable, though, of course, still evil. “I’m very much interested in intimidation,” he told an interviewer from School Library Journal. “And the way people manipulate other people. And the obvious abuse of authority.” All of these themes are evident in his young adult classic and best-known book, The Chocolate War. A 15-year-old fan of Cormier’s told him, “You always write from inside the person.”

Cormier traveled the world, from Australia (where he felt particularly thrilled by putting his hand in the Indian Ocean) and New Zealand to most of the countries in Europe, speaking at schools, colleges, and universities, and to teacher and librarian associations. He visited nearly every state in the nation. While Cormier loved to travel, he said many times that he also loved returning to his home in Leominster.

Cormier was a practicing Catholic and attended parochial school, where in seventh grade, one of his teachers discovered his ability to write. But Cormier had always wanted to be a writer: “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t trying to get something down on paper.” His first poems were published in the Leominster Daily Enterprise, and his first professional publication occurred while he was a freshman at Fitchburg State College. His professor, Florence Conlon, sent his short story, without his knowledge, to The Sign, a national Catholic magazine. The story, titled “The Little Things That Count,” sold for $75.

Cormier’s first work as a writer was at radio station WTAG in Worcester, MA, where he wrote scripts and commercials from 1946 to 1948. In 1948, he began his award-winning career as a newspaperman with the Worcester Telegram, first in its Leominster office and later in its Fitchburg office. He wrote a weekly human-interest column, “A Story from the Country,” for that newspaper.

In 1955, Cormier joined the staff of the Fitchburg Sentinel, which later became the Fitchburg-Leominster Sentinel and Enterprise, as the city hall and political reporter. He later served as wire and associate editor and wrote a popular twice-weekly column under the pseudonym John Fitch IV. The column received the national K.R. Thomason Award in 1974 as the best human-interest column written that year. That same year, he was honored by the New England Associated Press Association for having written the best news story under pressure of deadline. He left newspaper work in 1978 to devote all his time to writing.

Robert Cormier’s first novel, Now and at the Hour, was published in 1960. Inspired by his father’s death, the novel drew critical acclaim and was featured by Time magazine for five weeks on its “Recommended Reading” list. It was followed in 1963 by A Little Raw on Monday Mornings and in 1965 by Take Me Where the Good Times Are, also critically acclaimed. The author was hailed by the Newark Advocate as being “in the first rank of American Catholic novelists.”

In 1974, Cormier published The Chocolate War, the novel that is still a bestseller. Instantly acclaimed, it was also the object of censorship attempts because of its uncompromising realism. In a front-page review in a special children’s issue of The New York Times Book Review, it was described as “masterfully structured and rich in theme,” and it went on to win countless awards and honors, was taught in schools and colleges throughout the world, and was translated into more than a dozen languages. I Am the Cheese followed in 1977 and After the First Death in 1979.

These three books established Cormier as a master of the young adult novel. In 1991, the Young Adult Services Division of the American Library Association presented him with the Margaret A. Edwards Award, citing the trio of books as “brilliantly crafted and troubling novels that have achieved the status of classics in young adult literature.”

In 1982, Cormier was honored by the National Council of Teachers of English and its Adolescent Literature Assembly (ALAN) for his “significant contribution to the field of adolescent literature” and for his “innovative creativity.”

8 Plus 1, an anthology of short stories that have appeared in such publications as the Saturday Evening Post, The Sign, and Redbook, was published in 1980. In later years, many of the stories in the collection, notably “The Moustache,” “President Cleveland, Where Are You?” and “Mine on Thursdays,” appeared in anthologies and school textbooks. The collection also received the World of Reading Readers’ Choice Award, sponsored by Silver Burdett & Ginn, especially notable because young readers voted for Cormier to receive the prize.

I Have Words to Spend, a collection of his newspaper and magazine columns, was published in 1991, assembled and edited by his wife, Connie.

Robert Cormier’s other novels include The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, 1983; Beyond the Chocolate War, 1985; Fade, 1988; Other Bells for Us to Ring, 1990; We All Fall Down, 1991; Tunes for Bears to Dance To, 1992; In the Middle of the Night, 1995; Tenderness, 1997; Heroes, 1998; and Frenchtown Summer, 1999. Frenchtown Summer won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction in April 2000. All his novels have won critical praise and honors.

In the Middle of the Night and Tenderness were short-listed for the Carnegie Medal in England, and Heroes received a “Highly Commended” citation for that same award, unique honors because the Carnegie Medal is traditionally awarded to a British book.

Cormier's novels have frequently come under attack by censorship groups because they are uncompromising in their depictions of the problems young people face each day in a turbulent world. Teachers and librarians have been quick to point out that his novels are eminently teachable, valuable, and moral. His novels are taught in hundreds of schools and in adolescent literature courses in colleges and universities.

Though many of his books are described as written for young adults, in fact people of all ages read and enjoy Cormier’s work. His themes of the ordinariness of evil and what happens when good people stand by and do nothing are treated seriously, and he never provides the easy comfort of a happy ending. 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.

In an interview, Cormier was asked if he had accomplished what he set out to do at the beginning of his writing career. He answered with characteristic humility: “Oh, yes. My dream was to be known as a writer and to be able to produce at least one book that would be read by people. That dream came true with the publication of my first novel–and all the rest has been a sweet bonus. All I’ve ever wanted to do, really, was to write.” His writing has left the world a legacy of wonderful books, a body of work that will endure.


“Cormier is almost unique in his powerful integration of the personal, political, and moral.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Imagine what might happen if Holden Caulfield stepped into H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man, and you’ll have an idea how good Fade is. . . . I was absolutely riveted.”—Stephen King

“Convincingly and enticingly complex.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

“One of the eeriest of Cormier's thrillers, this account of vengeance and obsession provides the brand of suspense that has earned him so many fans.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“Spectacular . . . unnerving and piercingly honest . . . it doesn’t end at the end.”—The New York Times Book Review

“From the very first page, readers will be caught up in the story.”—Booklist

“Superbly written, with characters well developed and a tight, fast-moving plot. . . . A must read.”—VOYA

“An intense and powerful exploration of the burdens of accusation and guilt.”—The Horn Book Magazine

“Cormier is once again on top of his game. . . . His story will hold fans from first page to last.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“Powerful.”—Starred, VOYA

“[A] powerhouse novel . . . that will follow the reader long after the story has ended.”—Booklist

“Compelling . . . and thought-provoking.”—School Library Journal

“Superbly crafted. . . . A provocative look at the meaning of belief.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

“Cormier is in top form in this chilling portrait of a serial murderer. . . . [A] gripping tale.”—Starred, School Library Journal

“A mesmerizing plunge into the mind of a psychopathic teen killer that is both deeply disturbing and utterly compelling.”—Focus Review, Booklist

“The novel has a wealth of depth and complexity . . . Cormier’s best yet.”—The Book Report

“Vivid characterizations. . . . Cormier performs literary magic by making us empathize with these two teenagers who live at society’s far edges.”—VOYA

“Suspenseful and chilling. . . . Vintage Cormier: short pithy sentences and bends in the text take the reader along startling paths.”—The Horn Book Magazine

Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Book

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.

About the Guide

"Towers above the usual . . . bolsters Cormier's mounting repute
as a master of suspense and a wire-tight craftsman." --San Francisco Chronicle

About the Author

Robert Cormier’s writing is unique in its richness and power, and he was often called one of the finest young adult novelists in America. His books are brilliant and complex structures full of intricate wordplay and subtle thought.

Robert Cormier’s novels have received many awards, consistently appearing on the Best Books for Young Adults lists of the American Library Association. In 1991 he received the Margaret A. Edwards Award honoring his lifetime contribution in writing for teens, for The Chocolate War, I Am the Cheese, and After the First Death. Most recently, Frenchtown Summer was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction.

Cormier lived all his life in the little New England mill town of Leominster, Massachusetts, where he grew up as part of a close, warm community of French Canadian immigrants. He and his wife, Connie, had four children and many grandchildren who lived nearby. He was for many years a newspaperman specializing in human interest stories.

The Rag and Bone Shop was the last novel completed by Cormier before his death in 2000.

Discussion Guides

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).

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