Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review: Hate List

Hate List
Jennifer Brown
2009; Little Brown; ISBN 978-0-316-04144-7 (hardcover)

: May 2nd was the day that ended Valerie's life as she knew it. That was the day her boyfriend Nick went on a shooting spree in the school cafeteria. That was the day he accidentally shot her. And that was the day he killed himself. Three months later, Valerie prepares to return to school and build a new life for herself. She might not have shot anyone--but plenty of people blame her. Because the people that Nick shot . . . they were people on the Hate List.

Three Things to Know About Hate List

#1: Grieving and recovery is a process unique to each person.

Valerie slowly works through the process of mourning her boyfriend and overcoming her guilt about the shooting. Even though her parents didn't like him and their schoolmates teased him, Valerie loved Nick. But she had no idea he was planning to kill people off the Hate List they created together. Nick--smart, alienated Nick--had always been fascinated with death and getting even. Valerie went along with him, not realizing how serious he was and never really agreeing with his opinions. After all, she was getting good grades and planning to attend college. But after Nick's attack and death, Valerie is full of grief and subject to the blame of others. It's only thanks to the help of Dr. Hieler, her therapist, that Valerie learns to deal with her grief, her guilt, and how to create a new life.

#2: An enemy can become a friend.

Jessica Campbell is one of the queens of Garvin High School. Blonde and pretty, the Student Council president and a member of the volleyball team, she's a golden girl. And she was one of Valerie's tormentors before May 2nd. She delighted in using Valerie's nickname: Sister Death. But it wasn't just a nickname for Valerie--it was a label, a slur. She made fun of Valerie because she could. But then, on May 2nd, Valerie was able to save Jessica's life, getting between Jessica and Nick. And that changed things for Jessica. As she tells Valerie, "I lived and that made everything different." When Valerie returns to school, Jessica is about the only person who doesn't blame her, who attempts to make her feel welcome back. Valerie is put in the strange position of having a former enemy become her friend. It's not an easy friendship, but it helps get Valerie through her senior year.

#3: Parenting doesn't end with the teen years.

Valerie's parents both fail her in different ways, even before Nick's massacre. Her mom is weak and tired, worn down by years of fighting with her husband. Valerie's dad is even worse: ultra-focused on his career, with little patience for his wife or children. And both of them, particularly her dad, are not able to fully support Valerie after the shooting. They blame her for what's happened, not realizing that some of the flaws in Valerie are their doing. Valerie lacks empathy and judgment--perhaps no more than other self-centered teens, but it means that she remained with Nick even though her parents didn't like him. Yet due to the years of fighting, the lack of support and love, Valerie is searching for that kind of security, and she finds it with Nick. And even when things are starting to fall apart, as the warning signs of Nick's spiraling behavior are starting to be seen, Valerie can't see them, only worrying that he is planning to break up with her. Valerie's parents show how "staying together for the kids" can be more damaging than getting a divorce.

A riveting read that moves you to tears, Hate List does not shy away from the messy outcome of a school shooting. As Valerie slowly comes to grip with everything that happened on May 2nd, she is able to find outlets for her emotions and support from unlikely sources. But it's only once she's apologized and she's made peace with Nick's death that she's able to start moving on. She has setbacks but manages to keep making progress. By the end of the novel, she has found a measure of peace for herself. Jennifer Brown has crafted a novel that goes beyond the headlines and shows the aftermath of tragedy. Hate List is sure to resonate with readers of realistic fiction like Living Dead Girl or After.


melissa @ 1lbr said...

I love your thoughtful reviews! Especially the "3 things" parts.

melissa said...

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoy the reviews, and that the "things to know" part works for you.