Columbine. That’s where you have to start, for the premise is all too real: a high school outcast, bullied for far too long, bursts into the hallways shooting everyone who pissed him off.
The protagonist of THE HATE LIST is Valerie Leftman, whose boyfriend Nick killed six Garvin High classmates. Valerie never shot anyone herself but she and Nick kept a detailed list of all the kids she hated and wished dead. Nick went after them first.
Columbine high school was the scene of every parent’s worst nightmare, as more than a dozen people were gunned down. But this didn’t just happen at Columbine. It happened in other schools, other colleges, other crowded places. It almost happened in many more.
No matter where it happens, things forever change. Violence, even the fear of violence, changes everything. And that’s the point of THE HATE LIST. For Valerie, it meant a stay at the psychiatric ward, months on suicide watch and as a criminal suspect, years of therapy, and a family blown apart. For Valerie’s surviving classmates, it meant post-traumatic stress, various procedures to fix broken limbs–and for one student, plastic surgery to fix a shattered face. Oh, and endless hatred towards Valerie, for it was Valerie, after all, who made the list.
What makes this book so important is that Jennifer Brown reminds readers that the people who commit these heinous crimes aren’t inherently evil, and the shooters’ friends aren’t necessarily to blame. Valerie isn’t a monster, though her dad isn’t quite sure. And Nick, for all his anger, was a kid who needed help, a kid who was bullied beyond belief, a kid who got high one morning and simply lost his mind.
THE HATE LIST isn’t just a story of destruction; it’s a story of survival–Valerie’s survival, her parents’ attempt to save their marriage, Valerie’s classmates trying to go on with their lives. It’s a frightening story because of the horrific murder that happened that one fateful morning, but it’s even more frightening because it’s real. This really happens.
But never has this story been told from the shooter’s (and his girlfriend’s) perspective. Jennifer Brown has written a beautifully layered story with grace and honesty. Go read this book, then lend it to every teen you know.
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The writing community lost a star yesterday, as Lisa Wolson passed away. Wolson, who published under the name L.K. Madigan, will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family.