Val wrote a list of people she hated, people she said she wanted dead.
Her boyfriend Nick brought a gun to school one day, and opened fire.
Told in the first person, with Valerie the narrator, the book starts with her on the first day she goes back to school after the shooting and over the course of the novel flashes back to events leading up to, on, and immediately following that day. It's certainly an emotional read, and one a reader quickly becomes engrossed in; pacy and well-plotted. Val loved Nick, thought she knew him, and is having to live with what he did (which includes killing students and a favourite teacher, and shooting Val - who ran at him to get him to stop - before killing himself) and try to reintegrate herself into school and her family, while living with the guilt and hurt.
I know morbid and taboo topics are popular and that one of the awesome things about young adult novels is the way a teenager can experience something without actually having to experience it. For that end, this is an interesting book.
For the most part the writing is good. Limited interiority sometimes weakens the story, even in spite of it being from Val's point of view. For example, when Val goes to see Dr Hieler for the first time and he suggests her mother leaves the room for the session, he asks: 'Are you comfortable with that?' The next line is 'I didn't respond.' But I want to know why didn't you respond? What were you thinking?
Characterisation and development was pretty good. Although, the characters were, rawther unsubtly, given names that are designed to manipulate the reader's perception of them: Nick, the killer, has the surname Levil; the bully, named Christy Bruter; and the stupid and unsympathetic principal called Mr Angerson. Some reviews have noted how Nick is given a more sympathetic rap than the father, but for me, I could see exactly why the father acted like he did (even though it was both cruel and weak) but Nick was more of an enigma - which made sense.
The end? Leetle bit disappointing and cliched, although it did explore forgiveness and hate enough to give readers closure. I read this book and wanted to hate it for being one of those books, an issues/torture porn type read. I thought I did hate it while I was reading, but...I guess I didn't.*
Visit Jennifer Brown's website.
*Though it makes me feel like a bad person, I couldn't help but giggle when I read this interview with the author and learned that a Nickelback song inspired the novel. Ye gads. Even worse, I can't get The Smiths out of my head, thinking about how people's words can get twisted if you take them seriously:
Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking
When I said I'd like to smash every tooth in your head
Oh ... sweetness, sweetness, I was only joking
When I said by rights you should be bludgeoned in your bed
Bigmouth strikes again
I've got no right to take my place in the human race