Jennifer Brown’s Hate List has been on my radar for a while. I finally got a chance to read it a few weeks ago and WOW. Why did I not pick this book up months ago? Brown has woven a powerful and intricate story of the ramifications of a school shooting that left me in tears for the last third of the book. We are talking real tears, not just a little weepy, people. I finished reading the book the night before my wedding and stayed up way too late because I couldn’t stand to put it down until I finished the story.
At the end of their junior year, Valerie’s boyfriend Nick did the unthinkable. He brought a gun to school, where he killed six students and a teacher. Valerie was hit in the leg by a bullet while trying to stop him. Nick took his own life before the shooting was over, leaving a fractured and fragile student body behind. He also left Valerie behind to answer for what he had done, and what everyone assumes she was involved in planning.
Now, it’s time for school to begin again and Valerie’s therapist thinks it’s best for her to try and go back to school. Though she could transfer, she doesn’t want to force her younger brother and her parents to start over again because of her involvement with Nick so she heads back to school. But as the killer’s girlfriend, she isn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Her friends believe she knew Nick was planning to kill, her classmates blame her because she helped make the “Hate List” that Nick used to pick his victims, and even teachers and administrators have a hard time looking at her.
I’ve read other books about school shootings but Hate List is at the top of the list. Brown presents realistic characters and draws the social archetypes of high school perfectly. She captures the reality of the social hierarchy in American high schools to a tee. Each and every character is well-drawn, from the main characters to the smallest secondary character. And the sign of true realism? I didn’t know if I believed Valerie for a good portion of the book. No one was innocent, but no one was to blame, either. Hate List is the most accurate look at school violence that I have ever read. And because this looks at the aftermath of the shooting, I saw a lot of the social interaction that happens in schools. Kids do fall back into the same routine, and adults have a hard time admitting that. Cliques exist and you won’t ever eradicate them because cliques are friends and we want our kids to have friends. Hate List brought up a lot of issues and I think it would make a great book to read as a school, class, or book club. This books BEGS to be talked about. This is an extremely powerful story and I spent the last third of the book in absolute tears.
Highly, highly recommended for teens and adults.
*my own copy