Hate List is both a very hard read and a very easy read. Hard because of the content, the premise, and easy because of the light that travels with you as you read.
Flipping to the back of the advanced reading copy: 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.
It's been 10 years since the shooting at Columbine, but the story there has stayed with people. I also happened to have read Columbine by journalist Dave Cullen like two months ago, so it was an experience to read Hate List so soon after. There are a lot of upsetting descriptions in Hate List, a lot of very sad things said and done, but the central question I kept hearing between the lines was "What do you DO after your entire world is absolutely rocked off its center so violently and thoroughly? What pieces are left and how do you pick them up?"
And I love that Jennifer Brown does not make it an easy-peasy answer and even opens up dialogue within the story to ask questions like "would you go back to the same school? What precautions could you take afterwards to make sure something like this never happens again?" But my absolute favourite aspect about Hate List was that it was a total character book. Something huge has happened and now you get to see how many very different people react to it, how they respond and go about their lives. There are the victims, those people who survived the shooting, there are the family members of those who died, people who knew the shooter, and then there's Valerie--was she a victim too or the one to blame?
Nick was her boyfriend and she was so in love with him. He made her world worth living in. And then he went and killed and hurt a LOT of people, people they both knew and not everyone they hated. And Valerie was shot in the leg trying to stop him before he turned the gun on himself. Now, some say she's a hero and some wished she'd died as well. She'll have to go back to school to know where everyone stands.
Hate List is Valerie's book mostly. You see this girl struggle not to go insane from the things she knows about the world, about people, especially about hate and violence and her conflicting emotions about many people she loves. But she lived. And now she has to figure out how living gets done after being torn apart completely.
I cried a bit at the end. But Jennifer didn't manipulate the end to make me cry. She simply wrote it and left it open to whatever reaction comes. There's a lot of ambiguity in the book. Especially around Valerie's father and their relationship; it made me cringe in parts. The end also has a lot of light and dark, a lot of questions. I am a suck so I cried because that's how it affected me. But I could see how another reader might be angry or joyous, or just thoughtful. I felt like I had understood the meaning of healing as Valerie went about her story.
This is one of my favourite parts in the book. Valerie is talking about Nick and looking back with new understanding on their relationship:
He'd been hanging around with this guy, Jeremy, for the last month and every day he seemed to pull further and further away from me. I was afraid he was going to break up with me, so I just played along like it was no big deal that we hardly ever saw each other anymore. I didn't want to push him--he'd been so volatile lately and I didn't want to start a fight. I didn't ask him what he was doing on those days he didn't show up and instead just texted him back that "the shits in Bio need 2 B dunked in formaldehyde" and that "I h8 those bitches" and that "McNeal is lucky I don't have a gun." That last one would really come back to bite me later. Really, they all would. But that last one...that last one would make me vomit every time I thought about it for a long time. And it would inspire a three-hour conversation between me and Detective Panzella. And it would make my dad forever look at me differently, like I was some sort of monster deep down and he could see it.
*shivers* This passge was so affecting when I read it. It made me not feel safe reading the book, like "anything goes". But Jennifer takes your hand as you read and guides you through a story that needed to be told.