Hate List by Jennifer Brown. Little Brown. Publication Date September 2009. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.
The Plot: On May 2, 2008, Valerie Leftman, a high school junior, got off the bus in a bad mood because Christy Bruter had once again tormented her on the bus and then broken her MP3 player. She complains to her boyfriend, Nick Levil, who says he'll take care of it.
Val thinks Nick is going to yell at Christy, give Christy a hard time, maybe -- just maybe-- do something more.
Val doesn't think Nick is going to pull out a gun and shoot Christy. And then turn the gun on the other kids and teachers in the High School -- people whose name appears on Val & Nick's "Hate List." Val ends up being one of people shot right before Nick turns the gun on himself.
Months later, school has begun, and Val is returning to school. And whispers. Is she a hero who stopped Nick from killing more people? Or is she a villain who helped plan the shooting?
The Good: Hate lists. Yep. Easy to say, after one has been used by a school shooter, "what a terrible, sick, horrible, mean thing done by an evil person." But c'mon...when people are picking on you? Teasing you? Bullying you? Making your life miserable? Isn't it tempting to make a list of all the people and things you hate -- all the people and things that hate you? Does that really mean you want those people dead?
Val's struggling with a lot of things, least of all is being shot in the leg. There is her part in it -- the Hate List. There is returning to school. There is her family, hardly the model of perfect family bliss before the shooting. And there is Nick.
Nick, her boyfriend. Best friend. She loved him. Loves him. How can the sweet, Shakespeare loving boy be a murderer? Yes, he was teased. Yes, he got mad. But... but... how come she didn't see this coming?
While Nick and Val are bullied, with words and fists, Brown does a great job of showing this isn't about bullying. There are a lot of unanswered questions about school shootings (and if you want answers to those questions, I suggest reading books like Columbine.) Instead, this looks at the survivors -- the people who loved and liked the shooter. Because before he was a monster, he was a teenaged boy, with friends and a girlfriend and parents. Brown explores being that type of survivor, and what it means to reshape your life after the worst thing possible happens. Val is haunted by Nick; and I am haunted by Val.
Interesting thing about names. Nick's is "Levil" -- evil. The devil is sometimes called "Old Nick." Val's last name -- Leftman. She's been left behind. But her name, Valerie, means strength. Her brother, Frankie, is one of the more honest -- or frank -- people in the book. The principal, Angerson, does a lot to make me angry. Val's psychologist, Dr. Hieler, is a healer -- another wordplay. Christy Bruter is a "brute" to Val.
© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy