Book Review: Hate List, Jennifer Brown

Hate ListHate List by Jennifer Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This. This is what I wanted when I read This is Where it Ends, but I didn’t get it then. I have so many feelings about this book, both good and bad, but my god, was it fantastic.

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This book didn’t discuss anything particularly new- school shooting done by a horribly bullied kid, everyone suffers because of it, but his loved ones suffer even more than the rest. However, the execution of this idea was absolutely fantastic.

Hate List is a largely character-driven story, so whatever plot there was moved pretty slowly, but it was paced well and most elements felt very realistic. The story was told from Valerie’s, the shooter’s girlfriend, perspective, and it flip-flopped between the present, the day of the shooting, and newspaper articles dealing with the shooting.

I absolutely loved how Valerie’s character was handled- her grief, anger, and guilt felt very realistic for a person in her situation. Her friends don’t associate with her anymore, her own parents can’t stand to even look at her, and because of her simply writing down the names of her tormentors in school, her boyfriend left her with insurmountable guilt that wars with her own innocence- after all, she herself didn’t actually shoot anyone. Valerie was truly a strong female heroine- instead of just delivering “sassy” one-liners and dropping all her beliefs the minute a new love interest comes along, she changed and grew. Throughout the book, we are able to see the effect Nick had on her life; it felt real, how she couldn’t quite reconcile her Nick and the Nick who shot their classmates at first, but then how she began realizing that she might not have truly seen him as he was.

Through Valerie, Nick wasn’t seen as just some angry boy with a gun who came to school and shot people for no reason. He had substance; he was just human and pushed to the brink. However, it is shown that his bullies weren’t the only reason that he became a shooter- it’s implied that he was also always on that path, and that mental illness played a role in his actions as well. This balance between “always going to be evil” and “bullied kid who was pushed too far”, while difficult to maintain, was very well done.

No one in this book had any easy answers to give Valerie, least of all her parents. Her mother didn’t trust her at all, and partially blamed her for the shooting, while her father put the blame on her and didn’t forgive her even at the end. Sure, these parents made me incredibly angry, but in the end, I could see why they acted like that. Not only was their daughter implicated in the shooting, the media was putting pressure on them for not knowing, calling them bad parents. Some people can handle this, some don’t do so well. Valerie’s parents couldn’t handle it, and that was the end of that.

“Again there was a long silence. Mom sniffed a few times and the silence was so clouded I almost felt like I couldn’t breathe. ‘Sometimes I forget,’ she said, her voice threading out to me in the darkness. ‘Sometimes I forget that you were also a hero that day. All I see is the girl who wrote a list of the people she wanted dead.'”

Some characters were truly only there as plot devices to facilitate Valerie’s healing process, like Bea the art teacher. Others, such as Dr. Hieler, actually mattered to the plot and for character development. Dr. Hieler might actually have been the true star of the book, besides Valerie- he was one of the few people who tried to understand, who didn’t immediately write her off as just another killer.

Jessica, the mean girl turned friend, was another surprise. I was expecting them to become friends, because Valerie saved her life and of course that changed things, but I wasn’t expecting to become so attached to her. I was glad that after everything, Valerie had a friend she could rely on, no matter who it was.

This isn’t an easy book to read, but it’s an important one. Hate List got me thinking, how many people do I know who don’t know me? How many people know me, but I don’t know them? How many people do I think I know, but I really don’t? Is it even possible to know someone to the extent where you’re sure, 100%, that they would really never hurt a fly?

Every time a school shooting happens, I have to wonder, what if it was my school? Who would be the shooter, and who would be the victims? Would I be one of them? Books like Hate List always bring up my question of is there someone who’d be willing to shoot me? Someone who I’ve unintentionally mistreated to the point they want me dead? I sincerely hope not, but well, there’s no way for me to really be sure, is there?

I really appreciate a book that makes me think like this, reflect on my own behavior like this. If anything, more than the anger I felt at Valerie’s treatment or the tears I almost shed at the end, that was what I liked the most.

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