Have you ever done something you regretted but could never take back?
I literally finished this book 5 minutes ago and just needed to get my thoughts out. Because boy, are there a lot of things to say about this book! Let’s get on to it.
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.
If that synopsis doesn’t make you want to read this book I don’t know what will. You sometimes see in the news, stories about tragedies such as these even from across the globe in America. One that really hit hard in Australia especially was the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012. I’d never read a book dealing with anything like an issue like this before and so I wanted to give it a go. I’m so glad I did!
I’m going to organise this review or else it will turn into a rambling mess. Okay. First of all, this book is split into four parts. Part one has two time sequences, one of the day of the shooting and the events leading up to it, and the second of Valerie’s first day of school after the tragedy five months later. Part two focuses on the days following straight after the shooting, mainly in hospital. Part three once again is back to five months after the event but has more focus on therapy and family/friends. Part four is about graduation and the moving on from what has transpired at the school.
The pacing and plot development was flawless. There was never a dull moment and the author made everything flow so it all made sense despite the disjointed timelines. My favourite chapters were the ones that led up to the shooting because it was like you were in a psychological thriller movie, not wanting to look because you know what is about to happen but not wanting to look away either. However the recovery was very interesting also. Seeing what our main character does to recover past friendships, strengthen her deteriorating family bond, move on with her life, find peace. Whilst this novel focuses very heavily on bullying, and not trying to sound sentimental but I could relate a lot to it, it also has a human emotion focus to it. Such as the bounds of hate, forgiveness, guilt, regret and love. The plot perfectly complimented these emotions and I felt everything (legitimately EVERYTHING) in this book. The variety is what really got me. There isn’t one storyline to this, it has multiple layers of plot that all come together in a heartbreaking and heartwarming end.
The characters were extremely interesting to read about. Valerie was one of the most complex characters I’ve ever read from the point of view of. And while sometimes she made stupid decisions (like writing in a book everyone you hate?! Not that she wasn’t a little bit relatable..) it didn’t take away from the story as she really developed over the course of a year. She learned not to hold on to high school bullying and let it get the best of you. And Nick, what a character! He manages to kill around 10 people in a shooting and the author still manages to make you like him. Okay, maybe not like, but understand. Readers realise that in the end he was just a human being suffering from mental illness and drug abuse. The way this character was humanised and given another side to was especially interesting to see in the book as it would be much easier to just make the audience hate him outright. The side characters didn’t feel as though they were sidelined because the author really made them have their own voice and role in the book. I especially liked Jessica (Valerie’s friend) and Dr Hieler (Valerie’s psychiatrist).
The writing is probably my favourite part of this book. It contained passages that were just so beautiful and the ending almost brought me to tears. Here are some quotes I loved:
“Just like there’s always time for pain, there’s always time for healing.”
“Being pretty isn’t everything but sometimes being ugly is.”
“People hate. That’s our reality. People hate and are hated and carry grudges and want punishments … I don’t know if it’s possible to take hate away from people. Not even people like us, who’ve seen firsthand what hate can do. We’re all hurting. We’re all going to be hurting for a long time. And we, probably more than anyone else out there, will be searching for a new reality every day. A better one … But in order to change reality you have to be willing to listen and to learn. And to hear. To actually hear.”
This was Brown’s debut novel, but it definitely didn’t feel like it the way she could write. Her descriptions were more than just ‘brown hair, blue eyes’ but actually gave an insight into the person’s personality which was refreshing and quite enjoyable. She also got to know her world and portrayed it excellently. The school was really well planned and was actually given a history and had traditions that gave it a whole ‘nother dimension. I’ll definitely be checking out her other books based on the writing.
If it wasn’t obvious I gave this book:
and it will probably be a favourite for this year!
Sorry for the incoherency in this review. I just really loved this book and would recommend everyone give it a go. Let me know if you’ve read it and your thoughts down below in the comments. I’d be delighted to hear from you!
We should be friends: