Tags: YA, school shooting, tragedy, death, bullying
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
During the spring of their junior year, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend Nick Levil brought a gun to school and opened fire on their classmates and teachers. Many were killed or wounded, both physically and emotionally. Valerie stopped Nick from killing a fellow classmate and was wounded in the process, but because of her involvement in writing the “Hate List,” a notebook filled with names of students who were targeted in the shooting, many have implicated her in the terrible tragedy as well.
Now, at the start of her senior year, Valerie’s leg is mostly healed, but her heart has most certainly not. She still misses Nick, who killed himself after that terrible morning, and those surrounding her still make her feel guilty about her supposed involvement with that day. What will it take for Valerie to heal and be free of her guilt—if that is even possible?
HATE LIST has to be breaking new grounds in YA fiction: has there ever been a book about such a difficult subject? It is uncomfortable, heartbreaking…and yet ultimately hopeful.
The book jumps between that fateful spring morning and days following immediately, to the start of Valerie’s senior year, to various Valerie-and-Nick moments across high school. While the consistent changes in chronology may be unsettling at times, it does more to draw readers into Valerie’s past and mindset, helping us understand what, exactly, happened on May 2nd, her long-lasting connection to Nick even after the tragedy, and what she’s thinking now. Valerie herself may not be the most sympathetic protagonist around, even in her situation, but inevitably we accept her and all of her twisted thinking.
However, I wouldn’t say that this is one of my favorite books dealing with school shootings—Columbine by Dave Cullen does that better, I think—nor is it an easily believable portrayal of high school and adolescence in general. I guess I was expecting something that would delve more deeply into the psychological aftereffects of a school shooting on someone who was falsely implicated; however, HATE LIST deals with Valerie’s family and social issues much more than her psychological healing. That’s why I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Valerie’s psychologist, Dr. Hieler—one of the most interesting characters in the novel—because it allows us to access Valerie’s mind more than any other point in the novel.
It’s not a particularly mind-blowing novel—especially with underdeveloped supporting characters and a scatterbrained, free-spirited art teacher that just screams “amateur character cliché mistake!”—but HATE LIST will still be an interesting read for most people. It will be a great way to introduce the horrifying traumas of school shootings to younger readers who are not yet ready to read heavily researched true accounts of events such as Columbine.
Sarah Dessen (Dreamland)
Amy Efaw (After)
Want more? Oddly enough, it makes me want to read more about school shootings and adolescent bullying, so that I could try to understand more about it.
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Cover discussion: 3.5 out of 5 - I really like it. It's so stark, different from most YA titles. This is a book I'd totally pick up and maybe even buy without knowing anything about it except the synopsis, title, and cover.
Little, Brown / Sept. 1, 2009
Thank you to Little, Brown for providing me with a copy for review!