Back in January, I read This Is Where It Ends and expected total devastation. That book didn’t deliver it, but this one does. Talk about heartbreak. Whereas the first book never really looked beyond good vs evil, Hate List looks at the shades of grey in between.
In the spring of their junior year, Valerie’s boyfriend, Nick, came to school with a plan. Make everyone who had bullied them and made their lives hell, pay. Pay for the years of abuse and degradation. Valerie had no idea that the “hate list” she had created would be used in the spree. Had no idea that Nick was serious every time he said he hoped one of their tormentors would die. Deserved to die.
Trying to halt his murderous rampage, Valerie is shot in the leg and wakes in the hospital to find that her life is changed forever. Because of her list, the list she wrote and he used to pick his targets, she is a suspect in the shootings; was she trying to stop him, or egging him on? Did she help choose the targets? The witnesses, surveillance tapes, her own e-mails, the list, all tell different stories.
And now, senior year. What could possibly be worse?
Author Jennifer Brown focuses on the one person who is often pushed aside or forgotten in a tragedy, the one who is neither victim or perpetrator, the one who “should have known.” Valerie dated Nick for three years, how could she not have known he was serious?
Valerie is a sympathetic character, even when she isn’t being very likeable. She is swamped in pain and loneliness and anger and guilt and horror. Her private hatred and pain are displayed for everyone to see and judge and condemn, but no one thinks to question why she and Nick felt the need for such a list. She feels overwhelming guilt for mourning and missing the Nick she thought she knew.
That said, she is also selfish. Her life has been turned upside down, and she is understandably self-absorbed, but she also forgets that she has friends and family who have also been affected by Nick’s actions, some not as directly, but some even more harshly than she. Maybe they have questions and guilt and anger as well. Valerie can’t see beyond her own pain, at first. But she slowly begins to see the tragedy from more than her perspective.
What Brown also does beautifully is make Nick a person, full of pain and sadness and even selfishness, not just evil with a gun. Tired of constant bullying and derision for his differences, he breaks. The fine line between villains and victims switching places happens in a horrifying heartbeat.
It seems odd to call the multitude of secondary characters such a thing, as they were as central to the story as Valerie and Nick themselves. The varied personalities and reactions to the shooting were just as real.
The powerful second by second recounting of the shooting completely wrecked me. While I obviously have no experience with such a terrible event, every eerie millisecond dragged me in and left me speechless, and in tears. Time freezes then speeds up then slows again and sound vanishes.
School shootings are sadly a timely subject, one which is handled with utmost respect in this novel. Without blaming anyone, the author illustrates the extreme fallout from bullying, but also does not absolve the bullied from personal responsibility for their own actions.
Above all else, this book makes you think about yourself in high school and middle school. And maybe even today. How often have you said in a moment of anger or frustration or hurt, “I could kill her/him?” Did you mean it?
Hate List was published September 1st, 2009 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.