book reviews

Book Review: The Hate List

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My Rating: 6/10

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.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life. (Goodreads Summary)

Whenever I’m in Barnes & Noble, I’m always looking for a book title to catch my fancy. On my journeys through this hallowed bookstore, I always find myself drifting inevitably to the young adult section.

During my last couple of visits I’ve always come across The Hate List. The title beckoned my interest as the two people on the cover watched me hauntingly as I traveled along the bookshelves. At the end of each trip, however, I’ve neglected buying this book. Part of the reason: I’m broke, but another reason was that I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to read it. I’ve read a number of heavy titles within the last few months, from All the Rage to Bastard Out of Carolina to Push. I wanted a break from the trauma narrative but, at the same time, I couldn’t really stifle my curiosity. This is even more true since the eventuality of another public shooting has became more or less the norm in the United States. I wanted to see how the book approached such a reality and the inner trauma of those that were closest to the tragedy (though I do realize that the book was published in 2009, a bit before some of the more recent tragedies that haunt today’s public conscious).

Though I went in with this mindset, I realize that this book was way more about a school shooting. As Jennifer Brown states in her author’s note, “From day one, this story was always Valerie’s story.”  This is where the book ultimately succeeds for me. I feel like the lifeblood of this narrative is the characters and how they grow during the course of the story, especially our main character. The story is told in the first person from Valerie’s perspective before and after the shooting. What I found so interesting in the first couple of chapters is that the before and after perspectives are told side by side which shows a very nice contrast in the narrative. She is a character who is put into a very unique position being the shooter’s girlfriend. She struggles with her specific role in the tragedy, her feeling’s for her boyfriend, and her relationships with the various people who were also hurt by the tragedy from family to classmates. I really liked how the story handled this real struggle.

I also really like how many of the other characters take on dual roles in the narrative. Valerie struggles with her role as possible perpetrator and victim. This duality was also especially well done with Nick’s character. From various other perspectives, he was more than just a shooter. Nick was also a loveable boyfriend, a beloved son, and fellow victim. As the book introduces various other people with varying roles in the tragedy, the reader is shown how this duality plays in every character. Bullies become healers, friends become strangers and family members become hostile. It highlights the complexities that exist within individuals and pushes many of the main characters (and by extension, the reader) to see past the surface.

Despite my praises, I didn’t give this book a very high rating. I liked it but outside of the characters and the inciting incident that pushes the narrative forward, I couldn’t really find anything else that remarkable about the story. There were scenes that tugged at my heart something awful but I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve seen some of the plot elements before. As I was reading some of the setup and plot developments, I kept thinking  “Of course it’s this way” or “Of course this is happening.” This didn’t necessarily hinder my enjoyment of the book. It just made me walk away with the feeling that some of the plot was a bit predictable (or dare I say it: cliche). I think it’s mostly because of my overexposure to the “trauma narrative” in recent months that makes me feel this way.

Ultimately, if you’re prepared to read a book full of emotion and trauma, I would give this one a read.

(Also, I love the fairy godmother-esque art teacher in this book. Just one more plus).

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