by Jennifer Brown [YA PB Brown]
With school shootings occurring on a regular basis these days, Hate List by Jennifer Brown is timely. Because it is told from the viewpoint of the shooter's girlfriend, it's also daring. Winner of many awards, Hate List works on some levels and doesn't work on others, but overall it's an interesting and thought-provoking read.
What works well is Brown's exploration of the question of what makes a person bad or good, which she does not only through her main character, Valerie, but also through the shooter, his friends, and the bullies whose names were on the hate list. Let's start with Valerie. On one hand, Valerie's list helped set in motion the plan to kill half the population of her school. On the other hand, when she realized what was happening, she tried to stop the slaughter and got shot while trying to save another student's life. Is she a villain or a hero? And what about Nick, the shooter? On one hand, he was the one who took the hate list too far by opening fire on fellow teachers and friends, including some who weren't on the list but were simply protecting those who were. On the other hand, bullies made Nick's life both in and out of school a constant hell. Is Nick a bad kid destined for trouble? These are questions that Hate List raises and no doubt everyone will have their own answer, which is what makes a novel like Hate List so valuable.
In interviews, Brown indicates that for her, Hate List was never about a school shooting, but instead was about how Valerie (and everyone else) faced life in the wake of that tragic day. What worked less well for me is the portrayal of Valerie. On a large scale, while I understand that Valerie faced dilemmas of her own that arose from the tragedy, her struggle with guilt seemed to overshadow any kind of remorse for the victims of Nick's rampage. Her regular expressions of love for Nick also seemed inappropriate. Yet perhaps this isn't a fair judgment. Feelings aren't purely ones of hate and love, any more than people are completely good or bad. On a lesser scale, I don't even know why Brown brought up the psychiatric ward, because Valerie gained nothing from her time there, and that part of the story felt lacking in research.
Hate List isn't the first novel about a school shooting, and undoubtedly it won't be the last. But it's a good place for those interested in the subject to start. -- review submitted by Allison H.-F. - a customer of the Bennett Martin Public Library
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