Monday, December 7, 2009

Review: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Found via: BBYA 2010 nominations

Here's another wrenching book for you, this one about the tragedy of school shootings. But Jennifer Brown takes some interesting twists with a story we think we should know, adding to the heartbreak, yes, but also showing some unique insights into a tragedy like this.

Five months ago, Valerie's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire in the cafeteria, purposefully targeting all of the kids that had been making their lives miserable. In idle fits of rage, the two had compiled a "hate list," all of the people and things that they hated, from outright bullies to annoying TV news anchors to math homework. Valerie had thought it was all a joke, just a way to blow off steam. Nick had been deadly serious.

After being wounded in the attack, Valerie spent the summer in hiding as the rumor mill remained convinced she had something to do with the shooting, even after the police clear her of guilt. After months of physical and psychological therapy, everyone tells her she's ready to face school again, though Valerie isn't so sure.

The complexity of this story comes from the wide variety of relationships, none of which turn out exactly the way you might think. One of the school's most popular girls is determined to be Valerie's friend, even though she used to make Valerie's life miserable; she thinks that Valerie intentionally saved her life, taking the bullet that Nick intended for her. Other survivors aren't sure how to act around Valerie, and question whether she should be allowed back in school at all, guilty or not. The most complex and heartbreaking relationships, however, are between Valerie and her parents, as her parents don't quite seem to understand how their daughter could have been so angry as to devise the hate list in the first place.

And of course, Valerie is struggling with her own inner demons. She knows Nick did something terrible, but does that mean she can't love him anymore? It wasn't the Nick she knew who pulled that trigger, after all.

Valerie has help sorting out her personal issues and relationships with the help of a fantastic psychologist and a random art teacher, who I really wish had been integrated into the story more. The psychologist was great, however, because so often in YA lit the psychologists are ineffective, either because the character doesn't want to be their or the psychologist is a doofus or a combination of the two. Dr. Hieler is comforting to Valerie and a great sounding board for her. She's on to some of his "tricks" to get her to open up and talk, but since Dr. Hieler is the one person who's actually willing to listen, she keeps going.

If you've got a strong tolerance for depressing books, this could be a good book to pair with Dave Cullen's Columbine. Or maybe you should read the two far, far apart; if you're like me, the books will stay with you enough that even reading them 6 months apart you can remember some stark details.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I adored this book. I thought it was so well done and handled the subject of school violence with great realism and care. Brown did a wonderful job!

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