After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross

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After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Brilliant role-reversal story in which a young British boy finds himself and unwanted and resented refugee in France. How easily life can go wrong, eh? Strong points and a compelling story. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: April 2013
Publisher: OUP
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0192756265

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Longlisted for the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal

We were looking at a long line of people trudging down a country road. They were loaded with bundles and backpacks and babies and they all looked miserable and exhausted. Refugees, I thought automatically. But they weren't. They were people like us.

After Armageddon Monday - the collapse of all the major banks in the UK - life has become increasingly difficult for Matt and his family. Money is worthless. Food is the main currency. People who have it are resented and hated. They're named and shamed on hoarder websites and subject to violent raids by those who don't. Matt's family has more food than most because they have an allotment and have set up a trading network. But the raiders don't care about how they got their food. They just want it.

So it's no longer safe for Matt and his brother Taco. Their mother believes their only hope is to escape the UK through the Channel Tunnel before it's closed for good. The boys make it through hidden in the back of a truck but France isn't much better. They're sent to a makeshift refugee camp where there aren't enough tents, food is still in short supply and medical care is almost non-existent. The locals are hostile and conmen are everywhere. Matt will need every ounce of strength and determination if he is to take care of himself and his little brother...

I'm a big fan of Gillian Cross always, but I particularly loved this book. It's difficult for anyone - particularly young people who lack world experience - to put themselves into someone else's shoes. And if you can't put yourself into someone else's shoes, you will lack compassion. And the more of us who lack compassion, the worse a place the world will be. But you can imagine what it is like to be another person through a story. And After Tomorrow is both powerful and plausible. Cross shows just how quickly the safeguards of the society around us can disintegrate after a catastrophe and just how easy it is for people to find themselves in desperate straits, without livelihoods and homes. And then, painfully, she shows just what it is like to be an unwilling and unwelcome refugee in a country whose citizens resent you.

The clever thing is the role reversal. Cross isn't telling the story of a child from a far away country. She's telling the story of a British boy. What if this were YOU? It so easily could be, she's saying to her readers. But don't think of After Tomorrow as an ugly, hopeless story. It isn't at all. Matt is a great central character. You root for him every step of the way, especially as he gradually learns to become less insular himself - at first sneering over his little brother's attempts to learn French but slowly realising the value of shared language and communication. There are good, kind people to balance the nasty ones and the narrative itself is pacy and exciting. It's not just a lesson. It's an adventure.

Five stars from me.

You might also want to look at Where I Belong, also by Gillian Cross, which looks at immigrants into the UK.

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