Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
In After the Rain, Rachel Cooper’s emotions and feelings are revealed through her letters to her absent brother, Jeremy. As the story progresses and Rachel gains inner strength, the letters change to journal entries. Rachel and Izzy resembling parrying fencers, and the extensive dialogue between them enhances the novel’s readability. Short chapters introduce new action and conclude with thoughts that sum up the experience. The subplot of Rachel’s first romance prevents the major plot of Izzy’s death from becoming sentimental or melodramatic.
Rachel’s maternal grandfather, Izzy, is diagnosed with terminal cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. Because of his age and the nature of the disease, nothing can be done for him. With only a few weeks to live, he will quickly weaken. The doctor suggests that the family not inform Izzy of the diagnosis but make him as comfortable as possible.
Rachel dutifully calls Izzy weekly, but their distant relationship is void of affection. To her, he is a cranky old man who always gets his way. Izzy, a stonemason by trade, has always been physically strong and independent. When he falls during one of his daily four-mile walks, family members try to persuade him to move in with them, but he refuses. To appease her mother, Rachel agrees to accompany him on his walks, but she does not intend for them to become a daily ritual. After all, she has her own life to live, and she wants to spend...
(The entire section is 525 words.)
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One very brief reference sets After the Rainin the eastern United States, where Rachel and her parents live in a house within walking distance of her grandfather's apartment. Weightier concerns with juvenile delinquency, drugs, or poverty do not burden this contemporary middle-class setting, where understanding and perseverance promise to resolve the internal and interpersonal conflicts.
The significant events described in the novel occur within a crucial ten-week period that alters Rachel's life forever. Set in the present day, the story handles timeless themes of growth and maturity. The narrative begins when the Coopers learn that Rachel's maternal grandfather will probably die within three months. As the Coopers cope with the imminent loss, they reexamine themselves and their relationships.
(The entire section is 118 words.)
After the Rain treats unsensational themes and common experiences, and Mazer's style reflects this. Carefully controlled diction encourages the reader to draw upon personal experiences to understand each character, and convincing internal dialogue offers a sympathetic portrait of Rachel's feelings. The third-person, limited omniscient point of view reinforces the empathy readers feel for the main character, inspiring them to rejoice in her accomplishments and to share in her losses. Mazer captures the real language of intelligent, thoughtful people as she appears to eavesdrop on the conversations and thoughts of a thoroughly believable family as they deal with universal, if commonplace, conflicts.
The themes of alienation and death give the novel a poignant tone. Even though Rachel learns to communicate better with others in the course of the novel, her deepest sharing will continue to be long letters to her brother Jeremy, who may not even read them. Izzy Shapiro's helplessness as he faces death is deeply touching as he asserts his independence by ripping off his cumbersome oxygen mask, only to cast aside his pride a few moments later when he replaces it, clinging to his last few hours of life.
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After the Rain focuses on two diverse groups of people whose lives are complicated by problems stemming from their ages: teen-agers with little experience who yearn for independence and the enfeebled elderly who struggle against relinquishing the independence gained through experience. Both groups are often inadvertently neglected by a middle-aged population absorbed with the responsibilities of providing for the family. Mazer advocates that strong bonds be forged between the old and the young. Both groups need good listeners who are willing to give without forcing their opinions on others. Young people can benefit from the experience of the elderly, and the older generation benefits from the sense of worth derived from the relationship.
Instead of addressing more dramatic issues such as drugs, crime, poverty, and child abuse, Mazer focuses on universal but not sensational aspects of life. She tends to avoid overt social commentary; for example, the reader learns only incidentally that the Cooper family is Jewish. Rather than emphasizing issues and problems related to being part of a religious minority, Mazer treats this information as irrelevant to the conflicts among the characters. None of the characters are stereotypes, nor are their problems addressed in stereotypical fashion. Mazer depicts the characters as real human beings with problems common to ordinary families.
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Topics for Discussion
1. Initially, Rachel and her grandfather resist the idea of developing a close relationship. What leads them to take an interest in each other? Is either one of them primarily responsible for fostering the relationship?
2. Why is Rachel irritated when her parents take an interest in what she is doing? Is her anger justified? Should she be so bothered by the nickname "Mouse" her father has given her?
3. Should Rachel have expressed her irritation with her parents? How could she have done so without hurting their feelings?
4. What could Rachel's parents have done to maintain closer relationships with Philip and Jeremy?
5. No one informs Izzy Shapiro that he has only a few months left to live. Do you agree with this decision, or should Izzy have been informed?
6. Will Rachel continue to write long letters to Jeremy after her grandfather dies? Why or why not?
7. Why does Rachel resist offers of friendship from Helena and Lewis?
8. Do you think that Uncle Leonard, Jeremy, and Philip will interact more with Rachel's parents now that Izzy's death has provided the opportunity to leave old grievances behind?
9. Izzy graciously accepts assistance from a stranger when he falls. Why is he so willing to accept help from her but not from his own family?
10. Are there any indications that Rachel's mother has changed during the story? If so, how?
11. How will...
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Trace the major events in the novel and explain their effects on Rachel's developing maturity.
2. List five adjectives that describe Rachel's characteristics at the beginning of the novel. Support your choice of adjectives with events from the story.
3. Research the causes, symptoms, and possible cures for asbestosis. Does Mazer accurately describe Izzy's struggle with this disease?
4. Contrast the marriages of Rachel's parents and her grandparents with marriages described in another novel you have read recently. How are they different? What do you think causes these differences?
5. Assume that you are Rachel Cooper's close friend. Write a letter to Rachel's parents explaining the tension between Rachel and her family, and explaining how Rachel can be so annoyed with her parents even though she loves them. Suggest ways that her parents can help Rachel feel more comfortable with their expressions of affection.
(The entire section is 140 words.)
For Further Reference
Bradley, Betsy. "Review." Voice of Youth Advocates (June 1987): 80. This review of After the Rain finds it "an engaging story of getting to know a grandparent . . . [and] a novel well in the mainstream of young adult literature that teens will enjoy."
Metzger, Linda, ed. Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. Vol. 12. Detroit: Gale Research, 1984. Contains a brief sketch reviewing elements of the author's personal life, career, and writings. Several quotations from the author are included.
Noah, Caroline. "Review." School Library Journal (May 1987): 116. Noah compliments the novel's careful characterization, rich visual imagery, and effective, readable prose.
"Review." Horn Book (September/October 1987): 619-620. Describes After the Rain as "a powerful book dealing with death and dying and strength of family affection."
Stine, Jean, ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 26. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983. In addition to notes about the author, a sampling of criticism of Mazer's work is presented.
(The entire section is 143 words.)