Sunday, December 27, 2009

BR: Hate List

by Jennifer Brown

Well, it all started when Khy at Frenetic Reader wrote about how ah-mazing the book was, so I had to pick it up. I mean, it got a 9.5/10!

Hate List is about the aftermath of a school shooting. A school shooting that killed 6 people. And the shooter was Valerie's boyfriend, who targeted students that were on a 'hate list' that Valerie created and helped write. 5 months after the incident, Val returns to high school for her senior year, unsure of what will happen, but knowing she will be hated by the majority of the school population because of the list, despite the fact that she helped stop her boyfriend, Nick, and got shot and wounded in the process. Valerie's view on people and life changes as the novel goes on, and she struggles to move on with her life.

I really really really liked this book. The three things I usually comment on is the plot, characters, and writing, and Hate List certainly excelled in all three. The plot was character-driven, and was heartfelt, genuine, and interesting. Being so focused on characters though, it wasn't mind-blowing, but was satisfactory.

The characters were really what made the book, and I could go on and on about how well the author fleshed each one out, with so much depth, honestly, and realism. Valerie in particular was so well written, and so heartbreakingly honest in her narration, from her memories of the day at the shooting, her memories of Nick (the good ones), to her experiences at school wanting to alienate herself. She was surprised as anyone when Nick turned a gun on the school, but she still struggles to cling on to the Nick she knew, the romantic one who hated his life but loved her all the same. Nick isn't just an "object" in the book, he is well developed and while hated by most, his motivations and history are supplied as well. I also liked how Valerie used art as an outlet. Her guilt is sometimes overwhelming, as she blames herself for the list, and not knowing what Nick was planning. When she thinks about the shooting sometimes, she ponders why it takes something as extreme as 6 deaths for bullies to stop bullying, and people to respect one another. I really agree with her, and I wish I had time to quote it for you. It's things like this that makes this novel make you think.

I also really liked the supporting characters like Jessica, the blonde who was on the list but Val saved, and how she tries over and over to befriend Val. Even the kids who hated her, from Stacey (her ex-bff) and Duce to Meghan and Ginny who each have a story to tell and had their lives changed on the day of the shooting. Both likable and unlikable characters are in the novel, and I didn't find any of them stereotypical, which is awesome.

Another aspect I really admired in this book was how Brown didn't completely focus on the shooting; she included family conflicts as well. Val's parents are on the rocks (treacherous rocks), and she doesn't know how to handle the secrets that come out. I did love her brother, Frankie, though (and I liked Val's psychiatrist).

Interspersed through the novel were snippets that recapped the scene on May 2nd, the day of the shooting. Whether they were flashbacks or newspaper clippings, each one of them contributed to the plot and back story. I did hate the reporter though. The writing itself is decent, but I didn't like the pacing at all. It seemed the first half of the novel was about the summer up to the first few days back at school. Then school flies by so quickly, with parts dedicated to specific scenes. I thought the author could have balanced it out a bit more.

I thought the ending (grad scene) was okay, it fit the book and had a lot of potential. There were bits in there that made me tear up :o, so get your Kleenex ready.

Like I mentioned before, this book makes you think about life, and is by no means a fluffy book. It delivers a strong theme about seeing the good and bad in people, how we see what we want to see, how everybody is both good and bad. Nobody is completely evil-there was a softer, better side to Nick; there is another side to the people Val perceived as bullies; there was another side to the girl Val thought was her best friend. It also made me think about how bullying is handled in schools, and as much as it saddens me to say, not enough is being done to deal with it. All it takes is a student snapping, drawing a gun, and ending the bright futures of his or her tormentors. There should never be a time where a student, or even a person reaches this breaking point.

8.9/10 - because I really liked everything about this novel, and the only thing that stood in it's way from reaching a 9 is the choppy pacing and (tiny tiny) predictable-ness, but that is my opinion only. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read a more thoughtful book, one that deals with darker issues and has an amazing, flawed, but strong protagonist.


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