Cormier has traced the origin of this brilliant novel to his experience as a father. Recalling how much his children admired him, re remembers pondering how terrible it would be if a parent exploited this unquestionable admiration. He then began to wonder whether or not innocence could be an evil disguise for “the monstrous”. If one were only innocent, the importance of the need to question or contemplate questioning would not develop. These thoughts represent seeds for the kernel themes in After the First Death. Through a richly textured narrative structure, Cormier juxtaposes the haunting parallels between two relational pairs: sixteen year old preppie Ben and his patriotic father General Marchand, who masterminds a secret anti-terrorist army project, and the terrorist teenager Miro and his mentor Artkin, who masterminds a brotherhood of freedom fighters trying to regain their homeland. The complex disguises and betrahals of trust are dramatized amidst the suspense of a hijacked school bus full of small children and their teenage bus driver, Kate. The relationship that develops between Kate and Miro adds additional complexity and tension to the story. In addition, the use of multiple narrators provides varied perspectives on issues that ultimately can only be ambiguous. The title, too, offers richness in its allusions to a Dylan Thomas’ poem; each of the characters has a “first death” as well as perhaps, a “second”.
*Book summary taken from the theme description on the Oklahoma Humanities website.