Author: Jennifer Brown
Genre: Young Adult
Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.
Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.
My Take: This is the most real Young Adult book I have ever read. It may even be the most real book I have ever read. The author touches on so many different aspects of Valerie which resonates with the human heart. Valerie and her story are so multi-dimensional. Without giving anything away, I'll recap.
Valerie is a girl who finds herself on the fringes of acceptance. She's not alone and gravitates to a particular group, especially a boy named Nick. Together they have inside jokes, places they go, memories that belong only to them. One one angry day, Valerie starts writing down people and things she hates. It's innocent enough and Nick buys into it, too. They add to the notebook day by day. Over the years, Nick and Valerie become closer and share some happy times together along with some hard times.
One day, Valerie, feeling like Nick was drifting from her, meets up with him before school. She's angry because one of the bullies on the bus broke her MP3 player. Nick says something "Nick-like" and Valerie feels validated and like he's standing by her. He approaches the perpetrator, calls her out, then, with Valerie standing by, he opens fire. In the process, Valerie is shot in the leg and Nick fatally shoots himself.
Valerie started the HATE LIST. Did she know Nick was not joking when he'd talk about death, his own and those they hated? How much culpability does she carry? Did he do it for her? He's gone now and she's not. The community's belief in safety, shattered. Will they blame her? Is she angry at Nick for leaving her? Can she still love the one who hated so much? Can she love and forgive herself? Can others love and forgive her? Who is the media and what are they saying? Is the media perpetrating or healing the damage?
The author adds the family dynamics and the fallout that is so plausible. Each parent provides a different personality and perception that is also multi-dimensional. Incredibly, the author is capable of painting each main character as neither good nor bad, complete nor devoid. Valerie and her reality is so engaging, I immersed myself as completely as possible into this world.
I didn't find that the author had a particular agenda. It's not about stopping bullies but telling a story.
It's an incredibly well written novel. I will be thinking about it and mulling it over in days to come.