Monday, March 12, 2012

Hate list: a novel by Jennifer Brown

Valerie will never forget May 2, 2008 - it was the day her boyfriend walked into the school Commons and opened fire on the people on the Hate List.  The Hate List was something she started, a way to vent the emotions she was feeling, the pain she was feeling from the bullies, the jerks, the morons who couldn't leave them alone to live their lives.  It was meant to be a secret, something only the two of them knew about, she had no idea that it would become a hit list of victims. 

The shooting ended the lives of some students, the innocence of others, and left some scarred for the rest of their lives.  Valerie never pulled the trigger, and even though she jumped in front of one of the people on the list, most of her town sees her as being just as guilty as Nick - especially once parts of the list are published.  Told from Valerie's point of view, switching between the present and the past, you begin to get a feel for what Valerie went through, what lead to the shooting, and the complications that continue to impact on Valerie's life months after the shooting.  She survived, but in many ways she is a shell of what she was, drifting through the world in both physical and emotional pain.  The guilt she feels, especially when the police suspect that she is just as guilty as Nick, when she realises that she never knew how serious he was about his talk of death, when she realises that her life is not what she thought it was - all of these things press down on Valerie as she tried to make it through her senior year of high school.

Mass shootings, especially in schools, are a terrifying fact of modern life - no matter where you are in the world compared to where they happened you feel their impact.  Just knowing that a person can take the lives of other people is an intense and uncomfortable feeling, and the images of the Columbine school shooting, and the Virginai ech shooting, and its aftermath are still there for so many people.  Brown handles the subject matter with surprising sensitivity, given that her main character was the gunman's girlfriend and the Hate List she created was part of the reason for the shootings.  The deceased victims of the shooting are represented mainly through media clippings peppered throughout the story, and you get a feel for how the surviving victims feel because of Valerie and how they interact with her.

It is not surprising that this is an emotional book to read, not only because of the shooting and the aftermath of the shooting, but also because so much "real life" happens around Valerie.  She doesn't live for a year in the vacuum of the shooting, she has family stuff to deal with, therapy to deal with, her friends and former friends to deal with.  I almost shied away from reading this book because of the subject matter, but I am really glad that I read it, not so much because of the topic itself, but because of the way it was handled.  This is a brave book - both to write and to read.  There are few authors who could take such a delicate topic and handle it with the dignity and emotion it deserves - Brown did an amazing job.

If you read this book and are interested in other hard hitting real life fiction then try:
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher
  • Such a pretty girl by Laura Wiess
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
  • Willow by Julia Hoban
  • Cut by Patricia McCormick
  • Hold still by Nina LaCour
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Whale talk by Chris Crutcher

Reviewed by Brilla

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