My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are some books that you randomly stumble across, not knowing if it will be so great that it is important enough to remember or if it will be disgusting enough to make you wish you could forget it. This is one of the great ones.
In a world where bullying is so normal that we have to dedicate days, weeks, and months to the repercussions of that bullying, it is refreshing to read a book that shows the pain that hate can cause and the love that can come from that pain. Watching the friendships and relationships tear apart and come together in this poignantly written book is something I don’t think I’ll be forgetting anytime soon. Jennifer Brown manages to capture the anguish of being an outsider, loss of loved ones, young people drawn to death and suicide, dysfunctional families, and the guilt of not noticing how distraught some people are before it is too late.
Valerie, the narrator of the story, was someone who society might teach us to hate. She was the girlfriend of a kid who went in and killed and injured classmates and faculty before ending his life, some of whom were on a list that he and Valerie had co-authored. She was someone who would be hard for society to forgive, but she was also someone who should be hard for society to hate. She is as much a victim as anyone else because not only did she suffer the years of torment from the bullying, she also suffered from the bullet wound from trying to stop the shooting, the guilt of not realizing that the shooting was going to happen along with the guilt of feeling it was all her fault, and the hatred of so many of the survivors. She was hated not just by people who had never liked her, she was hated by people who were supposed to love her and to have her back. It is heart-breaking to read as this person continues to suffer for something that she didn’t mean to happen.
Brown did any amazing job crafting a tale that would lead even the hardest of hearts to feel empathy for the villains–all of them. If you tend to cry when reading or seeing anything emotional, then you might want to keep some tissues around because this book is a bit of tearjerker. It not only covers the shooting and its aftermath, it gives a great back-story of why it is so hard for Valerie to hate Nick and why it is so hard for her to feel trust around the people who had tormented her.
This book is an absolute must-read, not just for teenagers, but for everyone. It has a lot of heart in it and would probably move anyone of any age. It does have some violence and other disturbing content in it, so those who are easily triggered might want to stay away or read with caution. Mostly it has a lot of self-discovery and some subtle lessons about how to find your way in a world that isn’t always as forgiving or as comforting as we wish it would be.