Hate List by Jennifer Brown
Originally published in 2009
My copy: Paperback
5 months ago Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend opened fire on their school cafeteria, killing five students and one teacher before turning the gun on himself. Valerie, who was shot trying to stop him, is initially implicated in the shootings because of the hate list she helped create. The hate list her boyfriend used to pick his targets.
As Valerie integrates back into school, more of an outsider than she ever thought she was before, she is forced to confront her feelings of guilt and loneliness. Exploring the gray area between hero and villain, she navigates the rocky relationships with her family, her former friends, with the memory of the boyfriend she still loves, and with the girl whose life she saved five months ago. As she moves toward graduation and the year anniversary of the shooting, Valerie must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it all in order to make amends and move on with her life.
Five months after a fatal school shooting, the girlfriend of the now dead shooter has to return to school and face the music. Will everyone blame her for the shooting? After all, she did write a hate list which included the names of some of Nick’s victims – but she never really wished anyone dead.
I thought this was such an intriguing premise for a book, and I whizzed through the first half. The flashbacks to the day of the shooting were particularly interesting, and there was a lot of tension as you piece together what has happened on that awful day. But although the events are tragic, and we get another dimension by hearing more about the victims via newspaper accounts, the novel makes us really think about other issues such as bullying and its impact on the victims.
Where the book fell down for me was the focus on Valerie, mainly around her recovery from the incident – physically and mentally. I really wanted to find out more about Nick and what made him carry out the shooting. Early in the novel we find out he had a new friend called Julian, a bit of a loser by all accounts, and there are hints that Nick might have been influenced by Julian, and was dabbling in drugs. I would have loved more from Nick’s perspective or more insight into his family life and so on, as the small hints we get suggest he was a kind boyfriend to Valerie with a loving mother – not the typical villain at all. But these themes are never explored and Julian also disappears completely early on in the book, which felt like a really missed opportunity.
Also Valerie’s parents are just utterly horrendous, and seem to blame and – at times – almost despise Valerie for what has happened. I really wanted Valerie or someone else in the book to confront these horrible parents, but it never happened.
I think this book held a lot of promise but it didn’t all quite click for me. The novel felt too long, and by the second half my interest started to wane as all the attention was on Valerie. I wanted more about Nick and what made him tick, and why he finally flipped and carried out the shooting, but sadly this ever came.
My rating: 6 out of 10