What is a summary of After the First Death?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After the First Death is a novel by American author and journalist Robert Cormier exploring the consequences of terrorism. The story concerns a terrorist group completing a hijacking mission in the United States in the name of their unspecified country, which is possibly in the Middle East. The novel captures all of the deaths and destroyed lives that result form this one act of terrorism.

Led by the 15-year-old protagonist named Miro, a group of terrorists hijack a bus peopled with children on their way to a summer camp; the children are only 5 years old. The hijackers force the teenaged bus driver named Kate to drive to an old railroad bridge. Meanwhile, Miro gives the children drugged candy that is meant only to put them to sleep to keep them quiet; however, sadly, one of the children accidentally receives a fatal overdose. The hijackers decide they can use the accidental death as leverage to negotiate with the authorities.

At several points, Kate the bus driver tries to be heroic. She even attempts to drive the bus in reverse off of the bridge away from danger, noting, "If she went off course, the parapet looked strong enough to prevent the bus from crashing off the bride" into the "river below" (p. 144). However, the engine fails, making her give up and feel certain the hijackers will kill her.

The US military general sends his son Ben into the hijackers as a decoy to distract the hijackers from a planned military assault. Ben is shot and in the hospital realizes his father intentionally used him as a decoy, which leads him to commit suicide. His father is driven insane by his own guilt and winds up in a mental hospital.

Kate is also killed but not until after she and Miro escape the military assault and Miro comes to believe Kate has betrayed him.

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