Book: Hate List
Author: Jennifer Brown
I have never read any books by this author before, but I came across this book on Amazon and the subject matter seemed similar to a book I had read and enjoyed previously, Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes so I thought I would give it a try. I’m not sure I can say which one is better because they are both so different but I did thoroughly enjoy this book. The plot is relatively simple, a school shooting and it’s aftermath but the genius of this book is not in the plot. It is in the main character Valerie Leftman, the girlfriend of the school shooter. This story, told through her eyes, really is her story. In the end it’s not really about the shooting, it’s about Val and her relationship with Nick and how she deals with what he’s done. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
5 months ago Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend opened fire on their school cafeteria, killing five students and one teacher before turning the gun on himself. Valerie, who was shot trying to stop him, is initially implicated in the shootings because of the hate list she helped create. The hate list her boyfriend used to pick his targets.
As Valerie integrates back into school, more of an outsider than she ever thought she was before, she is forced to confront her feelings of guilt and loneliness. Exploring the gray area between hero and villain, she navigates the rocky relationships with her family, her former friends, with the memory of the boyfriend she still loves, and with the girl whose life she saved five months ago. As she moves toward graduation and the year anniversary of the shooting, Valerie must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it all in order to make amends and move on with her life.
The first thing to know about this story is that it is not a plot driven story, so I didn’t find it particularly fast paced and exciting but that didn’t really matter much to me because I don’t think it was ever intended to be plot driven. As the author herself says, this is Val’s story, so it is very character driven. Normally I would hate this, but Valerie is such a well developed character and we really get to know her, all sides of her throughout the book that I actually think it works quite well here.
One of the things I liked a lot about the book was that Brown used periodic newspaper extracts about the victims of the shooting which I felt really helped bring an authenticity to the book. I also liked the fact that Nick, the shooter wasn’t just portrayed as some evil villain, as through Val’s eyes we see her memories of him, her sweet and loving boyfriend who liked to quote Shakespeare and understood Val better than anyone else, and who ultimately was a victim too. That is the cleverest part of the book, that essentially the shooter is not only the perpetrator of the crime but also a victim, as had he not been pushed to the edge by the bullying of his schoolmates then the shooting may never have happened. I thought it was really good that none of the characters were completely good or completely evil.
I thought the concept itself was quite unique, because it dealt more with the consequences of the shooting than the actual shooting itself and because it was told from the point of view of someone who was not involved in the shooting (she knew nothing about it) but could be seen as equally responsible for it because she was the one who created this list. Her feelings were so real and relatable for teenagers. She wasn’t perfect, in fact at times she could be irritating but that’s what makes her so great.
Her relationships with her family also formed an important part of the book. I will freely admit that I hated her dad for the way he treated her and that he believed she was to blame for what happened, since she created the list. Her relationship with her brother was also intriguing as his real emotions towards her after the shooting are not revealed until later in the book and I honestly didn’t see that coming. Her mother appears to be supportive and incredibly protective of Val, but even she feels that Val is partly to blame for the shooting even though she knew nothing about it and thought the list was just a joke. Val’s therapist Dr Hieler was awesome, he was basically like a father figure to her when her own father is not and the only one who doesn’t seem to judge Val.
I didn’t feel like Brown dealt with the grief of Nick’s parents, yes it was Val’s story but aside from the one newspaper article about him, there was no moment between Val and Nick’s parents which I thought would have made the book even better and the fact that the role of Nick’s dodgy friend in the shooting is never explored as it is implied that he had something to do with it.
This is an incredibly powerful book and the strength of Val is quite inspiring, as she goes back to school and refuses to let the fact that people blame her for the shooting to stop her as she doesn’t feel she’s guilty of anything which she really isn’t, aside from venting hate towards bullies which all teenagers do. I also loved the fact that Jessica Campbell, the Queen Bee who Val jumped in front of, decides to reach out to Val and become her friend even though all her former friends no longer wish to associate with her and Jessica’s own friends don’t either. I thought that her friendship with Jessica was great and added an extra dimension to the book. My one little gripe is that I wasn’t sure about the ending since I’m not really one for opening endings, if it is only going to be one book then I like to know what happens at the end (having said that I’d love to read a sequel to this book).
Overall this is a wonderful, powerful story with intriguing and well developed characters, that really makes you think and reminds you of the importance of stopping bullying in schools. It’s an emotional read, for more reasons than just the obvious but it is well worth it. Val’s story is one of hate, love, overcoming adversity, blame but most of all forgiveness and no matter who you are I am pretty sure there is something we can all learn and take from her story.
My Rating: 4/5
The next book I will be reviewing is Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson