________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 2 . . . . September 16, 2005



Francis Chalifour.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2005.
133 pp., pbk., $9.99.
ISBN 0-88776-705-2.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Sylvia Pantaleo.

***½ /4

Reviewed from uncorrected proofs.


"Your father is dead." That four-word sentence, spoken in my mother’s soft, flat voice, changed my life forever. Mine. Hers. My brother’s. My father had died. DIED in red capital letters, as enormous as the billboards on Times Square. No, bigger, more excessive, than anything I had seen in New York. A nuclear bomb exploding in my chest. Ten thousand guillotines chipping off ten thousand heads with a terrifying metallic clamor. The Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrating in flames in the sky over Texas. An electric shock pulsing through my veins and bones. My mind skittered around for some place to hide from the pain. There was nowhere.

Fifteen-year-old Francis is in New York on a school trip when he receives a telephone call from his mother. He must return home immediately. Francis’s father had suffered from depression since he injured his back and was unable to work at the shipyard a few years ago. The previous year, Francis had discovered his father lying on the floor, overdosed on his medication. Luckily he survived, and Francis explains, “By the time school started he seemed better, and by the end of the school year when I went to New York and left him alone, I thought he was fine.”

     In After, Francis narrates his journey during the year following his father’s suicide. Francis’s grief is both palatable and tangible. His mother is devastated, and his younger brother, Luc, is confused. Through many retrospective vignettes, Francis shares memories of his father in happier times.

     Francis’s sorrow, the “Grief Monster,” rises unexpectedly, and he feels overwhelmed by the tragedy that has befallen his family. He even considers suicide himself. Emotionally, Francis is on a rollercoaster, but he tries to remain stable for Luc. As Francis struggles to understand his father’s death, he worries about how his peers view him, and he feels disconnected from his friends. He begins meeting with the school counselor and talks with the owner of Dairy Delight, a man who once worked with his father. Francis joins the “Lost a Parent Club” and meets Julia. He longs to talk with his father about “girls” and relationships.

     When Francis’s mother begins a relationship with another man, Francis is furious. She gives him a box of items that belonged to his father, and, in it, Francis discovers a note where his father agreed to meet his poker-playing friends in Toronto in 50 years time. Francis convinces himself that if he travels to the selected meeting place in Toronto on the designated day, he will find his father. The trip to Toronto is part of Francis’s healing process. The book ends five years after Francis’s father’s death, and Francis and his family have moved forward.

     According to the publisher’s information, After is an autobiographical novel. Part of Chalifour’s dedication reads, “If you’ve lost someone close, this book is for you. You know what I am talking about.” And it’s true. Chalifour accurately and respectfully narrates Francis’s grieving process. The narrative is disrupted by several time shifts, but this fragmentation realistically depicts the cognitive and emotional states of one who has experienced such a tragedy. The voice, actions and thoughts of Francis are believable, and although the novel is imbued in his profound sadness, the story is ultimately one of hope.

     Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding the father’s suicide are presented in a simplistic manner. Many individuals experience unemployment at some point in their lives. The novel would have benefitted from further explanation of the father’s complex emotional and psychological states that ultimately led to his suicide – not to justify his action but rather to assist young adult readers in understanding the father’s personal circumstances.

Highly Recommended.

Sylvia Pantaleo teaches language arts courses in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria in Victoria, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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