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.
When Hate List by Jennifer Brown first came out in hardback, I saw lots and lots of reviews of it on the American blogs I read. I was so intrigued by the plot that I knew that I'd want to read it eventually. I didn't pick the book up for absolutely ages, worried that the story would be too heavy and emotional. While it is emotional, Hate List is really more of a slow build-up as Val comes to terms with the events of that day and her own part in it, and Val not being the most self-aware person in the world, things happen at a much gentler rate. So it wasn't until the last third of the book when I really welled up with the tears. So even though the book really took its time to worm its way into my heart, it did get there in the end and I really felt for Val. She's in a very awkward and difficult position.
Right from the first page, we're aware that there's been a school shooting, in fact we begin Hate List several months afterwards. Throughout the novel we see newspaper clippings reporting the events of the school shooting as well as some articles profiling the victims of the tragedy. At the same time we have our main character, Val. She was a victim of the school shooting as well, having been shot in the leg, and there are some who call her a hero. Val saved another girl's life that day and seems to be the catalyst for the shooter to stop. But the shooter is also Val's boyfriend, Nick. And he chose his targets that day based on the Hate List that Val helped create. The Hate List is a record of all the people who bullied Val and Nick, all the people who called them names and treated them badly, the people who laughed at them and even the people who stood around and let those people get away with it. And Val feels guilty and responsible for her part in that list.
All the blame, all the guilt, all the bad feelings from her old friends, her parents, her classmates and the victims' families are all weighing heavily down on Val. And she's in mourning herself. Seeing things from Val's perspective shows us Nick, the school shooter in a much different light. There was a theme that I noticed while reading, one of seeing people in a more complex way. Val and Nick very easily judged their classmates and teachers as being very one-dimensional. I don't think that trait is specific to these two characters, I think quite a few teenagers and adults are guilty of this. Seeing one aspect of a person and believing that that IS that person entirely. And we see that with Nick's character especially. It'd be easy to see Nick as this horrible, angry person who did this terrible thing and it isn't who he was. We see him with Val as a normal teenage boy who loves spending time with girlfriend, reading Shakespeare. We are able to see a different side to him, and I think that's important. Val is in mourning for that Nick, the one who laughed with her and watched movies.
As Val begins her return back to school-life, we see just how differently she's treated at school. The principal is keen to stress to the public and the media how the school shooting has transformed the school into one that's united and supportive, but Val still feels those walls and boundaries between cliques. Between outsiders like her and Nick and the popular people. But she does have someone on her side, whether Val wants it or not. The mean girl who constantly picked on Val before, now wants to be friends, wants Val to join in.
Hate List was a very interesting novel to read, one which covers lots of areas. The bullying of Nick and Val. Nick's anger, hate and resentment. The school shooting and the aftermath of that, from the school dealing with their grief at the loss of students and teachers. Val's personal grief over her-Nick. Val's changing relationships with those close to her. Seeing others as they are and not just one aspect of their personalities or behaviours. And the slow transformation of Val from mixed up teenager unsure of her feelings and the part she played in the shooting to one of acceptance and in a place where she can begin to move on.
This book was read for the purpose of joining in with the Death and Bereavement in Teen Lit event hosted by Jo of Once Upon a Bookcase (though the event has now been postponed). This book obviously deals with many deaths due to the school shooting that occurs in a high school and these deaths are mourned and grieved by a lot of people as the school begins their memorial tribute. However, Nick's death is the one closest to Val and is the death that Val focuses on.