After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross

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Earlier this year my school ordered in a big selection of books to encourage the year 7s to read. After Tomorrow was a surprising gem I found among them and took home to have a read of. Although not strictly apocalyptic, it centres on a Britain in the middle of severe economic crisis and the struggles facing a family forced to try and seek refugee status in France. The book tackles rather adult themes, but also puts them across in a way that is still accessible to younger readers. Much of the more subtle issues might be overlooked by an 11 year old, but mean that the book is also appealing to older readers who recognise some of the darker undertone.

The book begins in England, where bank crashes and striking have left the economy in tatters. Food is becoming scarce and is leading to huge amounts of crime – with people breaking into other people’s houses and raiding shops. The family of Matt and Taco – our main characters – initially didn’t suffer too badly, owning an allotment which enabled them to grow their own food and trade some of it for non-perishables. However this prosperity soon turns their lives into hell, with robbers raiding their house to steal their food. Not only this but they are also tagged as ‘horders’ and placed on a watch list website intent on shaming ‘scadgers’ or those who have been lucky enough to have food. This increases the number of raids on their house, and in one attack Matt’s parents are severely attacked. The suggestion is also that his mum was raped, although not graphically stated so as not to scar younger readers.

Eventually the situation gets so bad that Matt and his family are forced to try and flee to France before the border is closed, although Matt’s mum gets left behind after an accident. The rest of the book follows Matt and his little brother Taco as they try to seek refuge and survive in a foreign country that is barely faring better than Britain.

In many respects After Tomorrow is pretty grim. It looks at abuse and panic and poverty and often shows the worst of humanity – the effect extreme conditions can have on usually polite and cordial people. The book also shows the best of humanity though – the way communities can group together and support each other through adversity. The conditions faced are incredibly hard and the misery of poverty is honestly portrayed.

It also tackles issues of asylum in a very revealing way, and one which is a fantastic education to young people. In reversing the roles – with the British having to find asylum rather than provide it – the problems that force asylum are brought far closer to home and are far more relatable than they often appear in the news. Suddenly it is understandable to young people what situations may cause someone to be forced to leave their home and their country and the desperation people may face in trying to find somewhere safe. Though fiction, After Tomorrow is very much a mirror of stuff happening all around the world today – with attacks on peoples’ houses and families forcing them to run for their lives, sometimes becoming separated from loved ones and sometimes finding themselves in situations that are not much better than the ones they left.

Especially when it comes to children’s books this is by far one of the better ones. It is aimed at an old enough age group that it confronts and tackles serious issues, while at the same time being aimed young enough that it is not all romance-centred and emo. I was also impressed with how much extra could be found reading it as an adult and I certainly didn’t feel like the book was dumbed down for kids. After Tomorrow challenged me to think seriously about asylum in a far more personal way and I think in terms of education and understanding alone this book is worth a read.

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