{Book Review} Hate ListHate List by Jennifer Brown
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on September 1st 2009
Genres: Bullying, Friendship, Social Issues, Violence, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Source: Purchased
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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.

My thoughts

This is an extremely powerful novel, not about a school shooting, but about the shooters girlfriend, Valerie, coming to terms with the aftermath. Was she complicit? Was she responsible since the list was her idea? Did she see the signs? All around her everyone thinks the answers are “yes,” even her parents. Even after the police clear her, Valerie isolates herself from her family and friends and doesn’t defend or deny her involvement, so there is no reason for anyone to believe otherwise. ¬†Who wouldn’t think that she was involved when she and Nick isolated themselves after years of bullying?

“Sometimes, in my world where parents hated one another and school was a battleground, it sucked to be me. Nick had been my escape. The one person who understood. It’d felt good to part of an “us,” with the same thoughts, the same feelings, the same miseries.” p. 36

Through Valeries reflections on the day of the shooting, her relationship with Nick and how they had grown farther apart before the shooting, and her sessions with therapist Dr. Hieler and art classes with Bea the eccentric artist, we gain insight into Valerie and watch her slowly recover and heal from the traumatic event. And when the student she saved the day of the shooting reaches out to her, Valerie must choose between living a life filled with grief and guilt or forgiving herself and moving on.

“I thought about this. In all the piecing together of what happened at school, it had never occurred to me to even ask myself why. The answer seemed so obvious – Nick hated those kids. And they hated him back. That’s why. Hate. Punches in the chest. Nicknames. Laughs. Snide comments. Being shoved into the lockers when some idiot with an attitude walked by. They hated him and he hated them and somehow it ended up this way, with everyone gone.” p.145

The character development in Hate List is amazing, through Brown’s writing I came to…
  • despise Valerie’s parents who gave her no support,
  • love Dr. Hieler for the adept way he was able to reach inside the mind of a teenager,
  • smile at the wise and unique words of Bea, the eccentric artist, and;
  • sympathize with Valerie for all the emotional pain she had to endure, not only at school but at home.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it was a perfect way to end the story and a real tear jerker.

This is a book that covers an extremely important topic, bullying, the effects it can have on kids and how we never really know each other.

“I hated them all so much for what they were doing to Nick, to me, to us. But now, standing in the hallway outside Mrs. Stone’s classroom, everything felt different. Standing in the hallway outside Mrs. Stone’s room, Meghan wasn’t so horrible. She was just another confused person trying to get it right. Just like me.” p. 277

While the escalation to a school shooting is extremely rare, every day kids have to deal with bullying in and outside of school. These days there may be no escape for kids with the increase of cyber bullying. It is our responsibility as adults and educators to intervene and protect kids from bullying.