Title: Hate LIst
Author: Jennifer Brown
Genre: YA contemporary
Length: 405 pages
Published by: Little, Brown
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.
So this book starts with a school shooting. But it’s about so much more than that.
To start out with, I made the mistake of comparing this book to Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes.
Jodi Picoult is one of my ultimate favourite writers, despite writing for adults, so it was definitely an unfair comparison. And why did I compare them? Because they both involve a school shooting. Nineteen Minutes is an amazing book, but in its way, so is Hate List. The main difference, I think, is that Hate List focuses more on what happens afterwards – how individuals pick their lives back up in the wake of a terrible tragedy.
This is a book about Valerie, not so much about the school shooting. I sympathised with her completely – everyone keeps blaming her for what happened, even though it was her boyfriend who started the shooting, not her. She had no idea it would lead to this, and I believed her character. Nobody else seemed to, though.
I think that was the most heart-breaking part of this book – how even her own parents looked at Valerie and saw a monster, or someone responsible for that awful tragedy. That made me so mad! Sure, everyone has flaws, but blaming Valerie for what happened wasn’t fair.
There was a lot of focus on family in this book. That’s good. I like families in books. Because it’s realistic, you know? Families are important. It was sad how this family was kind of fracturing – a lot of the book was sad. But it was about moving on, and that wasn’t all tragic.
I also loved the characterisation. The bitchy popular girl trope? It existed. It was there. But the characters changed. It’s not like the school shooting was this event that brought everyone together and made them treasure their existence or anything. No. Because that’s not what happens in real life – there were still the same petty arguments and conflicts within the student body. But I loved how Jessica, who used to bully Valerie, completely turned around and tried to be friends with her.
(side note: this is going to be my reaction GIF until the end of time)
The only thing that affected my enjoyment of this book was Nick. Nick was the shooter, Valerie’s boyfriend. And I know that the story’s mostly about Valerie. But even so, I didn’t get a real handle on Nick’s motivation for shooting all those people. I didn’t sympathise with him at all. I didn’t get why Valerie wanted to be with him. The scenes of bullying were very rare, and it felt like I was being told how much they were bullied, rather than shown. I would have liked to see more of what happened before the shooting.
Also, it was a little…long? There seemed to be a lot of unnecessary writing, I felt. Descriptions that could have been cut without damaging the story.
But despite that, this is a moving story about how individuals cope with the tragedies in their lives. I even teared up a little at the end.
And if you liked this, I definitely recommend Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (or vice versa – read this if you’ve read Nineteen Minutes). They’re both about school shootings, but so different in the way they’re told.