I finished this book in a little under 24 hours and I was tired, sad, happy, emotionally drained, and reeling all at the same time. I’m not kidding – I took a 3 hour nap that evening. Between that nap and staying up to the most ridiculous hours to read this book my Sunday night/Monday morning slumber was left in quite a chaotic mess, but I digress. I've given it a ton of thought and I think we should be putting this book in our kids’ hands – it needs to be read. I’ll recommend the book to my children (at the appropriate age – and that, of course, can only be decided by a parent and his/her child) and I’ll discuss it with them while and after reading
This book is about a school shooting, and this book is not about a school shooting. See, the school shooting may get the party started, but readers hang around the bonfire because Valerie, the left-behind girlfriend of the shooter (Nick), has a story that needs to be told. I’m guessing we could walk through any school in America and find many to represent Valerie and Nick, and that is why this book needs to be read. Our kids can relate to this content and they need to hear the voices that are left behind – even if they are fictional.
Valerie and Nick find each other and feel a connection. They no longer feel alone and isolated. They aren't as tortured by their horrible family lives or bully-filled school days. Together they are sweet and cute like all teenage couples, but one seemingly harmless list sets things down a totally different path and what was once sweet and innocent is now marred in evil and darkness.
The Hate List jumps around in time to give readers a good sense of what happens, what leads up to the action, and what is left in the wake of the shooting. The timing and point of view (Valerie’s along with several media reports from a local paper) make this book engaging and offer readers a full, big-picture view of the characters and events.
Why didn't Valerie know? Did she know? Why did she help create such a list? Should she feel bad? Should she feel vindicated? How does she recover? Can she recover? Where will she finish her high school career? What will become of her future dreams? Does she even still have a future? Should she hate herself? Is she guilty or is she a victim? Should she apologize? Maybe they should all apologize to her? Does she still love him? Is he a monster? These questions are just the tip of the iceberg for Valerie Leftman and the other students and parents at Garvin High.
When I picked up this book, I thought I knew what I was getting and I thought I knew pretty much how I’d feel after I read it, but I was way off. Brown really digs under the skin. She makes sure the reader feels the grittiness and the ugliness – makes sure they feel the confusion, pain, and utter hopelessness, while also showing them the path to redemption and healing. She ensures that readers won’t step away untouched – they won’t step away from this book and never think of it or its characters again.
Read this as a student. Read it as a parent. Read it as a teacher. Read it as a member of the community. Whoever you are and in whatever walk of life, read this book and discuss its content and themes with someone.