Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Review: The Hate List

Title: Hate List
Author: Jennifer Brown
Genre: YA Literary Fiction
Rating: A

Summary: Valerie's boyfriend, Nick (whom she still loves), brought a gun to school and went on a killing spree until Valerie jumped in front of a bullet--injuring herself--before Nick turned the gun on himself. Fast-forward five months and Valerie is returning to school for her senior year.

First Line: "The scene in the Garvin High School cafeteria, known at the Commons, is being described as 'grim' by investigators who are working to identify the victims of a shooting spree that erupted Friday morning."

Review: This book gave me a headache to read... because I was trying my darnedest not to cry (and failing).

Valerie is so confused and conflicted, and you can't help but think that you'd (unfortunately) be equally confused and conflicted in the same situation. Brown uses current events, coupled with flashbacks and news clippings, to paint the whole picture, and it's not pretty. Nick was bullied. It was rough to read. As much as it pains me to say, this kid's life sucked balls and you can almost (and that's a HUGE almost) see what drove him to it. Not that I'm condoning what (fictitiously) happened, but the scenes where Nick is being harassed by other boys--at the movie theatre (page 145) or in the lunch room (page 276)--were so tough to read. I cried (hard) for a fictitious character.

The book reminds you that high schools can be a scary place. And teens face a lot of crap--at school and at home. It's imperative that concerned adults get involved and start making a difference because teens need to know that they're valuable and that they're loved.

But, on the flip side, Brown gives you a look at what life is like for the victims of the shooting--before and after--and that breaks your heart too. This isn't a tidy story. Nobody was completely innocent and nobody was the sole guilty party either.

I also was gripped by Valerie's life after the shooting, trying to reconcile all the pieces of herself. Trying to come to grips with what happened, assess what (if any) part she played in it, trying to learn to trust other people again. There is a long scene (pages 309-326) where Val thinks she might be fitting in again, but then she faces a stark reality that some people think she's a monster... and she always will be.

There were a lot of other players in this book--Val's parents, her brother, her therapist, two other students--who were all interesting character studies as well. I'd have happily read this book (or portions of this book) from their perspective as well, trying to crawl into their minds. Good writing all around.

The only thing that I didn't like about this book was this off-beat community art teacher, Bea, who was just... bizarre. I think she was intended to get Val back into touching base with her art, but Val's therapist had already opened that window. (Val's therapist was AMAZING!) I thought the character was eccentric and this story just didn't call for eccentricity--it was surreal enough without theatrics.

Recommendations: If you like other "gritty" portrayals of real life (like Love Sick, Smack, lots of stuff by Lori Halse Anderson or Ellen Hopkins), then you'll probably enjoy this as well. In terms of future recommendations: I'm going to pick up, We Need to Talk About Kevin, which is another work of fiction that examines the aftermath of school shootings from the perspective of the parents of the shooter.

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