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.
REVIEW: 5 Stars
Holy crap. This book got to me in so many ways. From the powerful story to Valerie's inner thoughts it completely pulled at me. If you want a book that will make you really feel something, this is it. It isn't too often a book affects me enough to make me cry but this one did- a huge compliment to the author.
The story itself is somewhat told in pieces with some chapters telling what happened on May 2, the day of the shooting, others talking about Valerie's summer where she tried to recover from the gunshot wound to her thigh, being involved and accused with the shooting, and getting over losing Nick, and still more telling her story of returning to school in the fall, facing the gauntlet of people who believe she is just as guilt as Nick. I really enjoyed the scattered layout of this book and never once did I find it choppy. It kept the intrigue going and everything correlated, also getting across the message that even as she's in school that next fall, she is still reliving that day and everything after.
Valerie was a very deep, very dimensional character. Yes, it was Nick who pulled the gun on people but Valerie began the Hate List- a spiral notebook where the couple wrote down anything and anyone that they hated. It started as a joke but at some point that Valerie didn't realize, Nick turned it into reality. From texts and emails to that book and conversations they had, everything that had to do with hating the world came back full force at Valerie. From a learning standpoint, it is a fantastic aspect of the book because many teenagers don't realize what an impact things they say and do can have later. On the flip side, I thought even the detectives were blowing it out of proportion because how many people say they hate something when they are mad? How many people wish bad things on others out of anger and frustration? That doesn't mean they will pull a gun and what an emphasis everyone put on that book really did bother me. It was an outlet- a way to vent- and I firmly believe that even without that book, Nick still would have brought a gun to school that day.
Nick was shown in different lights but the defining thing was how Valerie saw him- the boy she fell for and had been with for three years rather than the kid who shot up the school. That Nick was a stranger to her. She remembered the boy who could quote Hamlet, who read most of Shakespeare, and who slept on a mattress on the floor of his basement because that's the only room he had. He understood her on a level others didn't and they were best friends.
This is a book about bullying but cast in a somewhat different light. Nick was not a complete loner. He had a girlfriend and he had friends, even if they were the school losers and outcasts. But he was also bullied, as was his girlfriend. The fact that Valerie couldn't get through the morning bus ride without being tormented by one of the popular kids and had the nickname Sister Death because the populars didn't like the way she dressed was made clear throughout the book. Valerie was tormented- only she didn't act out like Nick did. Even Nick's friends didn't know the full extent of what Nick was feeling and thinking, making the point that you never really know and no matter how hard you look, sometimes it just isn't there to be seen.
As far as bad parents go, Valerie's just might win an award although they were very well written, came up often, and had depth to them as well. Her father was absolutely horrible in my opinion. Very fitting, I hated him. I could understand some of her mother's behaviors but her father was just something else- something very not good. This didn't just happen after the shooting either- it was already there but Valerie being an initial suspect in the shooting only made things worse. But what would you do when you knew your father hated you? That he blamed you and wouldn't forgive you? That isn't an easy place for any teenager to be but particularly one with Valerie's issues and experiences. To be honest, I kept waiting for Valerie to kill herself or run away because of how hard everything hit down on her but she didn't and I think that is phenomenal. Where many other teens would have given up, Valerie kept going which sends a strong message.
The ending was possibly as heartbreaking as the rest of the book but also comforting and provided closure. This is an ending that will stick with me just as much as the book as a whole. Jennifer Brown has shown her amazing writing ability, thrusting a rough subject into the spotlight and pulling in the reader. I felt every emotion Valerie did, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. If this is a book you can stomach, I recommend it. It has an amazing message about healing, bullying and blame. This is a review I am not even sure did it justice because of how strongly this book got into my mind and if you know me, you'll know what a compliment my final thought is. This book hit me as powerfully as 19 Minutes did and I won't be forgetting it.