Hate List by Jennifer Brown
Published by Hachette UK on September 1st 2009
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.
Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.
“People do it all the time–assume that they “know” what’s going on in someone else’s head. That’s impossible. And to think it’s possible is a mistake. A really big mistake. A life-ruining one if you’re not careful.”
This is the kind of story I was hoping for when I read This Is Where It Ends – a book that promised to delve into the darkness of school shootings, but never moved past a surface view of mindlessly evil shooter vs. poor victims. Hate List, on the other hand, is dark, psychological, sad and angering.
So many things were running through my head while reading this upsetting novel. One was an Abigail Haas quote: “Wouldn’t we all look guilty, if someone searched hard enough?” And another was a memory of something I wrote in my diary when I was about thirteen. Back when I was an angsty, depressed teenager, I wrote the sentence: “some people should really just die.”
That came back to me while reading this book. I was angry, I was sad, but did I want to kill anyone? No. Did I have it in me to get a gun and shoot my classmates? It would never even have occurred to me. And that’s kind of what this book is about. How we all have dark thoughts now and then. How we all throw away casual sentences like “I could kill her!” but mean nothing by it.
The story, while technically about a school shooting, actually goes far deeper than that. The author chooses to focus not quite on the shooter, not quite on the victims, but on someone in between. Valerie. She was Nick’s girlfriend and helped create the “Hate List” – a list of people who had bullied them, humiliated them, judged them. But it was just a harmless list of names, right?
Well, it was until Nick decided to walk into school one morning and pick off the people on that list, one by one, and then kill himself. Now, Valerie’s left alive with the blame. Many believe she and Nick planned the shooting, many blame her for creating the list regardless. Her own parents can’t look at her. Her group of friends are afraid to be associated with her.
Valerie is a very sympathetic character. It’s easy to relate to her, to feel her pain, her guilt, her loneliness and her anger. Everybody hates sometimes, and it is extremely heartbreaking to see her private hatred dragged out for the world to see and to judge. It made me so angry that she was being blamed for writing down the names of those who made her life hell.
And, through her, Nick is not merely an evil boy with a gun. He becomes a human being full of pain and sadness, sick of being kicked into the dirt and treated like shit just for being different. This book breaks down the barriers between victim and villain, between the average teenager and one capable of doing something so horrific.
Whenever school shootings happen, people always look for an answer to those same questions: what makes this kid different from everyone else? Do they have some innate propensity to kill? How am I different? Oh god, am I that different? And I think this book really looks at that, humanizing everyone and offering an understanding of their individual situations and motivations.
It was very powerful and never once stopped making me feel something – sad, angry, frustrated, concerned, and hopeful.
I'm Emily May - a twenty-something year old book blogger from the North of England. Currently going wherever the wind or the storyline takes me. Find me on Goodreads
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