Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend was always there for her. To her, he was caring and passionate who allowed her to talk about her true feelings, her likes, her dislikes. So it was as much as a shock to her as it was to everyone else, when 5 months ago he opened fire in their school cafeteria. he killed several people, seriously injured more, before finally turning the gun on himself. Despite her injuries – and the fact she saved one of the girls who was on her list – people are convinced Valerie was involved…because all the victims were chosen from a ‘Hate List’ she had made with Nick.
After a summer away from her classmates, teachers and the school, she must now face them all again and confront the guilt she feels. Although she wasn’t part of the plan to commit the crime, she feels overwhelmingly responsible for what took place. Through the school year, can she not only adapt to her new life, but embrace the opportunity to have a second chance?
Other than Sixteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, I’ve not read a book based on a school shooting. It’s obviously a topic which will have numerous layers and complex ideas related to it, which makes for a really interesting read. In the UK, we don’t have the same gun laws so a story like this makes it feel more ‘real’ than newspaper reports from across the Atlantic. It involves not only the facts but also the emotion of everyone involved.
Jennifer has embraced the topic with a sensitivity; I thought writing it from the girlfriend’s point of view was interesting and showed a perspective of an untypical victim. She isn’t just a student who was shot, but someone who carried the guilt of the shooting whilst not being involved herself. Val feels responsible for what has happened; despite not picking up the gun herself the hate list was partly her creation. She never expected what was a seemingly harmless list to become something horrific. Because of this, her character development throughout the story is the most important theme.
Alongside this, we see each of the reasons the victims were on the ‘Hate List’. We see the impact of the bullying Nick received and the impact that, in this case, it had on the victim. It might even make us consider our own impact on other people. But it is reiterated really well that the victims are never at fault for being shot, which is dealt with well in this book. They are innocent; they do not deserve it, no matter what has happened prior to the event. I think it was really important this narrative was strong throughout the story, considering the viewpoint it was written from.
I thought the snippets of newspaper throughout the story really added to the impact of the incident; you saw not only the living victims but also the fatalities and how it impacts beyond the school and into the community. Whilst the overall theme was a hard-hitting situation there was the humanity underneath which made this a book I was really glad to have read.
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