When I was a senior in high school I took a class on contemporary literature. During the course of the class we had the opportunity to choose a book from a given list to read as a topic for an oral report. I was absent the day the class was given the list and asked to pick their book. So, when I got the list there were only two books left to choose from. One was a biography on some baseball player and the other was After the First Death by Robert Cormier. Since I really had no interest in reading about a baseball player’s life at that point in my life, I went with the Cormier book.
After the First Death is a book that is about a bus full of camp children that gets hijacked by a couple of terrorists. It’s a very intense book. I read the bulk of the book in class. I was 18 and really had no applicable knowledge of terrorists or what they did. The whole book was a very reality altering experience for me.
In the book, the girl driving the bus is a teenager. She takes her responsibility for the small children on the bus seriously. She really works at trying to solve the problems brought about by the invasion of the terrorists in what she thought was a safe world.
As I read the book, the world around me really shifted. It’s not like I had not dealt with death before. I’d lost great grandparents. A close family friend had a very sudden tragic accident when I was still in grade school. My great aunt, with whom my mom was very close, was murdered by her husband when I was in 8th grade. I’d lost numerous pets. But, none of those rocked my reality the way this book did.
In psychology class we were told that developmentally, most people do not fully understand mortality until somewhere around age 18. I remember being told that just a few months before reading this book and thinking, “That’s silly; we all know that people die.” I will never forget the realization that I had not understood until the moment I read the end of this book.
There are deaths that happen in the book. It’s the ending that really got to me. Without giving away what happens in case anyone wants to read it, it is a punch to the heart and throat constricting. I could feel myself right there in the story. I fully understood the thoughts and feelings that were happening with the girl who was the bus driver. And, I finally understood exactly the concept of my own mortality. The earth shifted under me and I’ve not been the same since.
Is there a book that changed things for you or changed the way you see the world?
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