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After the Fire

Written by Will Hill

Key Stage 4 Family / Home Stories Gritty Reads Thrillers

LoveReading View on After the Fire

A powerful exploration of what can happen to a section of society and an individual when they live in a society they are at odds with. A take on the Waco Siege in the USA

Shortlist for the UKLA Book Award 2019 | Winner of the YA Book Prize 2018 | Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2018 | In a nutshell: tense, super-suspenseful novel based on harrowing real life events

After the Fire was inspired by the Waco siege in Texas 1993 when 82 members of the Branch Davidian sect and four US government agents died in a fire fight after a long siege. It’s not a fictionalised version, but Hill imagines life in the camp and as a survivor. Moonbeam, his central character, is beginning to doubt the teaching of Father John and to comprehend the methods he uses to control his followers. A survivor, she’s being coaxed to tell the story of the events that led up to that deadly confrontation with ‘The Authorities’. The tension rarely abates, and Hill makes readers empathise with Moonbeam’s confusion and fear. He also makes us desperate to discover the secrets she’s keeping, and long for her to achieve the freedom that’s always been denied. One of the most gripping and suspenseful books you’ll read all year. 

Andrea Reece

After the Fire Synopsis

Powerful, gripping, and beautifully told, bestselling author Will Hill's After the Fire is a novel about love, hope, loss and, ultimately, courage.

We meet Moonbeam after the fire which ripped through her small community, deep in the Texas desert, killing many of her Brothers and Sisters and their leader, Father John. Now safe in a facility, Moonbeam is questioned about what happened in the compound. But it’s not an easy story to tell - she’s overwhelmed with guilt and she’s struggling to overcome the voice of Father John and the rules of the Lord’s Legion. She can’t tell them what she did, can she?

With a building sense of unease and tension Moonbeam tells her story of life in the sect and the shocking events that led to the fire. And slowly she makes sense of her role in the tragedy, and she starts to trust again – in those trying to help her, and in herself.

***The premise of After the Fire was inspired by the real-life sect Branch Davidians led by David Koresh and the Waco siege in 1993. The 51 day siege began when the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted to raid the property of Branch Davidians resulting in an intense gun battle and the deaths of 80 people (agents and members of the sect). After the siege shocking stories emerged about life in the compound under Koresh.

Whilst researching and planning After the Fire, Will read the work of Dr Bruce Perry, who led the treatment of the children who survived the siege. His paper on the subject, Stairway To Heaven: Treating Children in the Crosshairs of Trauma, explores how the Davidian children were experiencing common symptoms of trauma – from the siege itself but also from their life preceding it. They had lived in constant fear - an average resting heart rate of a child around 10 years old is 70-90 bpm, but when they took the heart rate of one child, it was 160. This elevation in heart rate was likely due to a ‘persistently activated stress-response system’.

Everything Koresh had told them about the ‘Final Battle’ and outsiders had seemingly come true – so rather than feeling liberated, they felt like hostages and they resisted communicating with those trying to help them. It was only through creating a stable, loving environment and by giving children an opportunity to express themselves in their own time that these barriers were gradually broken down.

In After the Fire Moonbeam and the other First Legion children experience all the same symptoms – they must overcome years of conditioning and living in fear of Father John. We see how as Moonbeam starts to trust Dr Hernandez and Agent Carlyle, and she is able to tell her story, she is able to start rebuilding her sense of self, and ultimately hope for the future.

After the Fire Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Lovereading4kids Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can read their full reviews by clicking here.

  • Talia Jacobs, age 15 - 'A powerful novel about corruption, secrets, and questioning everything you’ve ever known. Beautiful and unique, it will stay with you long after you turn the final page.'
  • Grace Spear, age 14 - 'After The Fire is an incredible book with emotions overflowing from every page, making the reader really feel everything that happens to the main character.'
  • Euan Lorimer, age 13 from West Buckland School - 'Very interesting, gripping read which just shows how completely innocent people can be completely manipulated by someone.'
  • Izzy Read, age 16 - 'This tale of grief and trauma has resonated with me, leaving me crying...Will Hill captures a cult seamlessly - the dedication, religion and isolation all involved.'
  • Laura Solomon, age 14 - 'Original, a story from a never seen before perspective, After The Fire is Young Adult writing at its finest.'
  • Edel Waugh - 'I flew through it, the plot was exceptionally good and I could not put it down once I started it... It was awesome!'
  • Megan Abbott, age 18 - 'Fascinatingly gripping!...Some of the themes can be quite upsetting so I would recommend this book to anyone who can cope with the subject...I absolutely loved it!'
  • Jess Anderson, age 14 - 'I thought that there were really clever plot twists in this book that I didn’t expect. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it.'
  • Adam Goodman, age 14 - 'Based on its unusual format, the tension in the book builds up increasingly as you read on... All in all, this was one of the most gripping books I have ever read.'
  • Megan Chambers, age 16 - 'This book was so amazing, words can't describe it! I would definitely recommend this book to a friend, and although it took me a while to get into it, I'm so glad I persevered.'
  • Rebekah Marsh, age 14 - 'emotional roller coaster of a novel'
  • Saskia in Year 9, Great Torrington School - 'This novel is a tense, thought-provoking book. I couldn’t put it down.  It was sad at times, gripping and fascinating throughout.'

After the Fire Press Reviews

Praise for After the Fire;

"After The Fire is the gripping story of a fight for survival and escape: it will keep you up late until you get to the very end." - Maureen Johnson, New York Times bestselling author of The Name of the Star

"I devoured After the Fire - a chilling, gripping portrayal of cult life and the shockwaves that resonate long after the cult has been dismantled. Will Hill offers up a masterclass in suspense that kept me guessing with every turn of the page." – Amy Alward

"Powerful and beautiful, this book will transport you to Moonbeam's world - and once read, it will become a part of you forever." - Maggie Harcourt, author of Unconventional

“A beautiful, affecting story of corrupting power, and those whose lives it ruins. And in Moonbeam, he's written one of the most brilliantly realised characters in contemporary YA fiction. It's an absolute triumph." - James Smythe, award-winning author of Way Down Dark

"Absorbing, gripping, and darkly fascinating… it's a must-read novel from a storyteller at the top of their game." - Sarah Pinborough, author of Behind Her Eyes

"A gripping story of survival with a big heart. Scary, exciting and uplifting all at the same time." – Juno Dawson

Book Information

ISBN: 9781474924153
Publication date: 1st June 2017
Author: Will Hill
Publisher: Usborne Publishing Ltd
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 496 pages
Year Groups: Key Stage 4
Topics: Family / Home Stories, Gritty Reads, Thrillers

About Will Hill

Will Hill grew up in the north-east of England and worked as a bartender, bookseller and in publishing, before quitting to write full-time. His first novel, Department 19 – the first in a series of five – was published in 2011 to widespread acclaim, garnering Will, and the series, a huge fan base. Will now lives in east London with his girlfriend. 

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