Initial reaction: There aren't a lot of books that make me cry. This one made me teary eyed in places.
It's a book that covers many difficult subjects and emotions, and there are definitely a lot of times where Valerie was a difficult character to follow, but man - her emotions, experiences - all felt very genuine and real to me.
Val's parents were horrible.
Listened to this via audiobook, beautifully narrated.
Oh man, how on earth do I write a review on Jennifer Brown's "Hate List?" Honestly have no idea what took me so long to read this book. I really do enjoy books that challenge the way that I think about tough subjects and delve into the matter with such an intimate perspective and character growth arc. This book was no different.
But reading "Hate List" hurt. I'm not going to mince words about it, this hit me in a place I wasn't expecting to be hit at all. (Weird that I'm writing this review shortly after watching a Criminal Minds episode where the anniversary of a school shooting took place.) The journey was such an emotionally sharp one, holding me in a vice-like grip and not letting go until I listened to the last minute. I'll admit I actually wept during parts of this because it hit me that much.
This is the story of a girl named Valerie whose boyfriend (Nick) was the center of a mass school shooting that left several students dead or permanently scarred (mentally and physically), her being shot in the leg, and ultimately him turning the gun on himself. I'll admit if there was one flaw that I could name in the duration of this narrative right off the bat, there's a bit of a run around in the timeline for events, but it makes sense as the book moves forward because it's dealing with Valerie's (Val's) recall and rollercoaster of grief. When we meet her, she's not the most likable person to follow. She's between these PTSD states as she attempts to return to school for the first time in months after the shooting.
Suffice to say, people are not happy to see her, not just for the fact that her former boyfriend was the shooter, but he targeted people based on a list of people she made - those that either tormented them or hung in the same circles as those people. So Val's having PTSD from not just the shooting itself, but for her role in events with it, even for inadvertently saving the life of a fellow classmate in trying to stop Nick from shooting anyone else. The narrative takes the reader through not just the event, but for Val's reminiscence of her relationship with Nick and the conflicting emotions she feels in not being able to understand the divide between her good memories with him, his distancing, and the consequences of what he did.
Watching Val go through therapy and the conflict of emotions in that process really hit home with me. I found it so realistic, especially with the strong performance of the audio narrator, Kathleen McInerney. Val has to not only come to terms with what happened in the past, but deal with the changes in her relationships at school - as well as at home. Val had a very unstable home and school life, between being bullied, her parents on the verge of divorce, and Nick drawing further and further away in the time before the shooting occurred. Once Val's recollection of the event and the direct aftermath of her recovery is covered, Val's process of moving forward is showcased through her developing relationships and "seeing what's really there" among both the adults in her community and her peers within the student body. It really struck me to see how much Val grew and came to terms with it all - and the ending punctuated an emotional journey which culminated with Val's graduating class.
I didn't always like the surrounding cast of characters (seriously, Val's parents made me angry in this book - I couldn't believe the way they treated their daughter, but I had the understanding that they were grieving and had their respective flaws. That understanding was what got me through some of the tougher places of the narrative. It's dramatic, but palpable.). I LOVED Dr. Heiler's character - he really came through as an outstanding character not just in Val's recovery, but in his own person as well for support in a community that's still trying to pick up the pieces for the event. Jessica was also a very surprising character with the way she came across. Val inadvertently saved her life, but Jessica becomes more than just the "mean girl" character that she's purported to be at first. The event changes her, much like the student body, and she has a push/pull relationship with Val which becomes a stronger bond as the two relate with each other.
Definitely a recommended read, and especially in its audio format. I loved this book and name it as a new favorite. Will definitely be reading more of Jennifer Brown's work in the future.
Overall score: 4.5/5 stars