Sunday, May 19, 2013

Book Review, Part Two: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

I have a little extra time this morning before I go see my DH, so thought I go ahead and post the second half of the book review.

Hate List is more than the story of a school shooting. It is the story of a journey: the journey Valerie takes from being unpopular, unloved, and finally, hated and blamed, to becoming a young woman who learns how to deal with the situations life is handing her. Along the way, she learns to accept reality, to confront her feelings of guilt and fear, and to adjust to the loss of her boyfriend and to the disintegrating marriage of her parents.

The story is told from Valerie's POV, and augmented with her flashbacks and with newspaper reports that are skillfully integrated throughout the book. As for that horrific morning in the school cafeteria, we've never really told exactly what took place; mostly it's left to our imagination. It's understated, and in bits and pieces so there is a growing sense of something awful coming, but you're not sure exactly what.

Valerie is not exactly the most heroic person, nor is she someone you can easily relate to and sympathize with. No, she didn't shoot anyone. Yes, she tried to stop Nick, and in doing so, saved the life of another girl and got shot herself. But you begin to get a little tired of her commiserating with herself. She did write up the Hate List; she did exchange numerous emails with Nick about how she hated these people, and how she could understand why HE hated the people on the list.  And, everyone he killed or wounded was on her list. But her lack of understanding about the feelings of the parents of those he killed and wounded make you want to take her out of the pages and shake her good! You want her to try to make amends, to try to accept the reality, and finality, of what happened, and to quit feeling sorry for herself. It takes awhile.

Nick is something else altogether. We don't learn enough about him to be satisfied that he could so abruptly turn from an intelligent, loving ( at least, to Valerie) young man into a killer. He isn't created as a monster. He isn't painted as a kid who is damaged in some respect, although he comes from a disfunctional family. Nor do we know the kind or extent of the influence he received from Jeremy, although we do know he was introduced to drugs. But it's never made clear that drugs played an important part in the shooting. So what happened to Nick?

Another thing that annoyed me was that it's never clearly explained why Nick and Valerie were bullied, nor the extent of it, other than some name-calling by some of the girls who disliked both of them. But why? And why was it so intense that they felt the need to write out a Hate List?

Jeremy played an important part in the downfall of Nick...we think...but his role was never explored, his story never told. In fact, from about the middle of the book on, he wasn't even mentioned again. That left yet another hole in the story: who was Jeremy, and how and why did he become the catalyst to set Nick off? Or...was he?

I think the stories of these two young men could have been, and should have been told. Perhaps then we would have a much clearer idea of why Nick did what he did, why he felt so driven to shoot these kids, and what Jeremy's true role was in all of this. Yet none of this was ever fully explained.

All in all, it was a good book. It was told with empathy, with poignancy, and some of the scenes were heartbreakingly accurate, particularly in light of the recent Sandy Hook killings. I felt sympathy for Valerie, but I was a little disappointed in her, too. She seems too often to want to play the victim, without giving much thought or consideration to the real victims, and to how their families are trying to get on with their lives. She doesn't seem to understand, or even want to understand, that they hold her somewhat responsible because their children were on her Hate List, and they died.

It becomes a little puzzling when at last she is accepted once again by her old friends...the other outcasts...and by the new ones, who just happen to be the girls and boys she once hated, and even put some of them on the Hate List. This aspect of the book was also not thoroughly explored. It just seemed to "happen," because these kids were 'followers' of the girl whose life Valerie inadvertantly saved. This girl feels she owes her life to Val, therefore she is going to be her friend whether Val wants her to be or not, and subsequently, her friends are going to be Val's friends. Yet, she never apologizes to them, they never discuss why they were on her Hate List, and they never even mention what was going on between all of them and her before the shooting. Another place that leaves you wondering.

Still, it is a good book, and it is still the kind that makes you snarl when you have to put it down. You want answers you don't get, but that doesn't make it any less a fascinating read.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.