After the First Death
Goodreads ratings
3.72 / 5

"After the First Death" Summary

By Robert Cormier

young adult | 240 pages | Published in NaN

Who will be the next to die? They've taken the children. And the son of a general. But that isn't enough. More horrors must come...


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A terrorist hijacking of a school bus leads to a gripping and intense hostage situation.


"After the First Death" is a gripping young adult novel by Robert Cormier, known for his thought-provoking and intense storytelling. This psychological thriller takes readers on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, challenging their perceptions of right and wrong. Set against the backdrop of a harrowing terrorist hijacking, the novel delves into the complexities of human nature and the moral dilemmas faced by its characters. With its intense plot and multifaceted characters, "After the First Death" offers a compelling exploration of themes such as loyalty, sacrifice, and the consequences of one's actions.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

"After the First Death" is a suspenseful tale that unfolds during the course of a harrowing terrorist hijacking of a school bus. The story is set in rural New England, where the lives of several individuals intertwine in unexpected and dramatic ways. As the events unfold, the characters are faced with difficult choices and moral dilemmas, and the consequences of their decisions resonate throughout the narrative.


The novel is primarily set in a remote area of New England, where a military base and a summer camp for young boys are located. The main events take place on a school bus that is hijacked by terrorists, adding an intense and claustrophobic atmosphere to the story. The isolation of the setting intensifies the tension and heightens the psychological drama as the characters navigate the challenges they encounter.

Main Characters

The novel features several key characters whose lives become intertwined in the face of the terrorist hijacking.


A strong and resilient young woman who finds herself at the center of the hijacking. Her courage and determination play a pivotal role in the unfolding events.


A conflicted and complex teenage terrorist who is torn between his loyalty to his cause and his growing doubts about the morality of his actions.


A compassionate and intelligent young boy who becomes an unlikely hero in the face of danger. His innocence and bravery shine through as he grapples with the terrifying situation.


The manipulative and ruthless leader of the terrorist group, whose motivations and actions drive much of the novel's suspense and tension.

Summary of Each Chapter

Chapter 1-5: The Hijacking

The novel opens with the hijacking of a school bus, setting the stage for the intense and gripping events that follow. The passengers, including Kate and Ben, are taken captive by the terrorists, plunging them into a nightmarish ordeal.

Chapter 6-10: The Negotiations

As the authorities and the terrorists engage in tense negotiations, the characters grapple with fear, uncertainty, and the moral dilemmas they face. Miro's internal conflict comes to the fore as he begins to question the consequences of his actions.

Chapter 11-15: Unraveling Motivations

The novel delves into the motivations and backstories of the key characters, shedding light on their complexities and inner struggles. Kate's resilience and determination become increasingly evident, while Miro's internal turmoil reaches a boiling point.

Chapter 16-20: Escalating Tensions

Tensions mount as the situation on the bus becomes increasingly volatile. The characters are forced to confront their deepest fears and make difficult choices that will have far-reaching consequences.

Chapter 21-25: The Climactic Showdown

The narrative hurtles toward a climactic showdown as the characters' fates become intertwined in a gripping and heart-wrenching finale. Loyalties are tested, sacrifices are made, and the true nature of heroism is explored in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Main Events

The central event in "After the First Death" is the hijacking of a school bus by a group of terrorists, which sets off a chain of intense and dramatic events. The interactions and decisions made by the characters within the confined space of the bus drive the narrative forward, leading to a series of gripping and emotionally charged moments. The escalating tensions, negotiations, and moral dilemmas create a compelling backdrop for the exploration of human nature and the consequences of one's choices.

Themes and Insights

Loyalty and Betrayal

The novel explores the intricate dynamics of loyalty and betrayal, as the characters grapple with conflicting allegiances and the consequences of their choices. The shifting loyalties and moral dilemmas faced by the characters offer insights into the complexities of human relationships and the sacrifices that loyalty may entail.

Morality and Consequences

Through the characters' internal struggles and the moral quagmires they navigate, "After the First Death" delves into the profound themes of morality and the far-reaching consequences of one's actions. The novel prompts readers to ponder the ethical implications of difficult decisions and the enduring impact of individual choices.

Courage and Resilience

The novel showcases the resilience and courage of its characters in the face of overwhelming adversity. Kate's unwavering determination and Ben's unexpected heroism exemplify the strength of the human spirit and the capacity for bravery in the most dire circumstances.

Reader's Takeaway

"After the First Death" offers readers a riveting and thought-provoking exploration of the human psyche and the complexities of moral decision-making. The intense and emotionally charged narrative keeps readers on the edge of their seats, while the multifaceted characters and gripping plot provide ample material for reflection and introspection. Through its examination of loyalty, sacrifice, and the enduring consequences of one's actions, the novel leaves a lasting impression on readers and invites them to ponder the intricacies of human nature and morality.


In "After the First Death," Robert Cormier delivers a masterful and compelling narrative that captivates readers with its intense plot, multifaceted characters, and thought-provoking themes. The novel's exploration of loyalty, sacrifice, and moral dilemmas unfolds against the backdrop of a gripping terrorist hijacking, immersing readers in a world of escalating tensions and profound human emotions. As the characters navigate the harrowing ordeal, their choices and actions resonate with lasting impact, leaving readers with a profound and resonant literary experience.

After the First Death FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'After the First Death'?

    The genre of 'After the First Death' is a psychological thriller and suspense novel.

  2. Who is the author of 'After the First Death'?

    The author of 'After the First Death' is Robert Cormier.

  3. What is the main theme of 'After the First Death'?

    The main themes of 'After the First Death' include terrorism, identity, and the psychological impact of traumatic events.

  4. Is 'After the First Death' suitable for young readers?

    Due to its intense themes and mature content, 'After the First Death' is more suitable for older readers, such as young adults and adults.

  5. What is the plot of 'After the First Death'?

    The plot of 'After the First Death' revolves around a hijacking of a school bus and the psychological struggles faced by the characters involved.