Best Books for Children

Kate L'argent, Independent Usborne Organiser

September Book Club Review - After The Fire

15th September 2017

Utterly gripping from start to finish, After The Fire is a compelling reminder of the dangers of extreme power, and the devastation that is left in its wake.

Told through the eyes of 17 year old Moonbeam, the novel is divided into 'before' and 'after' - taking us back and forth from the present day safety of Outside, to the dangerous life within the compound of The Lord's Legion.

The novel starts with the chaos of the fire and the desperation to escape it, before switching to the controlled environment of the George W. Bush Municipal Center, where everything is gradually given some semblance of meaning. Here we meet Dr Hernandez and Agent Carlyle, who are trying to piece together the day of the fire, and the events that culminated in the explosive end of The Lord's Legion. Through their questioning of Moonbeam, we are transported back to her life behind the wire fence, and the men who controlled every aspect of it through a warped interpretation of religion. 

As the story unravels, we learn about a world where fear is at its centre, and conformity is the only way to survive. Yet in spite of all this, we still see some elements where a strong moral compass is able to fight past an upbringing of cruelty, giving us some hope for the future of the children who had never known anything different. 

Moonbeam is surprisingly relatable as a main character, and in spite of the trauma of her past, there are still moments of real lightness in her interactions with other characters, in particular the relationship she has with Honey, and the rappour she builds with Agent Carlyle. Whilst undoubtedly the subject matter of the novel is harrowing, Moonbeam still maintains a sense of humour, something that seems utterly remarkable when her world has fallen apart around her.

Cults by their very nature are secretive and unknown to the outside world, but this novel helps to explore some of the mystery behind them. While we can never hope to understand what leads someone to exploit others' desperation to believe, this novel is a powerful reminder of the dangers of extreme leadership, and the need for us all to remember our humanity - even when it appears that the rest of our world has lost theirs.

This is a novel that will really make you think, a novel that will be impossible to put down, and a novel that you won't forget about long after you have devoured its final few pages.

Here's what our Organisers thought about it:

'I thought it was excellent. I remember the Wako siege, which the author mentions in his notes at the end. I liked the way is went backwards and forwards through Moonbeam's experiences and her counselling. I also think that it is an important lesson for young people to learn- that they can follow their own instincts and do not have to blindly accept what they are told by others, and they should not be afraid of not following the crowd.' Chrissy Noble

'I read this one last month and thought it was a really gripping. I absolutely stormed through the second half! The lead character is very likeable and believable and the suspense builds very subtly as the story goes on before several shocking revelations come at you through the final chapters. It's the first YA fiction I've read and it's spurred me on to read more.' Jamie Jones

'Absolutely loved it! So gripping from start to finish. It's brilliantly written and works so well moving between Before and After. One of the best books I have read.' Anna Koe

'Some very strong messages and very emotional at times. I loved the way it was written too, which leads you in. I cried in places as the story unfolded.' Kate Mulvey

'Absolutely stunning book. Agree with everyone about the clever use of backwards and forwards storytelling. I also think this has the impact of highlighting how these things happen. It's the way people are manipulated by the slow and almost unnoticeable changes made to the society until they suddenly realize how out of control the 'leader' is.' Heidi Thomas

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