Hate List - Jennifer Brown
When bullied teenager Valerie Leftman, and her boyfriend Nick Levil, create a list of the people and things they hate, it seems like a harmless way to let off steam. But while Valerie finds it satisfying to write down names and things and simply let it rest, Nick has more sinister plans.
May 2, 2008 seems like any other day, but everything changes in the morning before school starts, when Nick opens fire on his classmates in the school cafeteria. Using the Hate List as a guide on who to pick as targets, Nick seeks revenge against his peers in the worst way he knows how, and forever changes the lives of the staff and students of Garvin High School.
Five months later, Valerie (who was shot in the thigh while trying to stop Nick) is about to return to school to complete her senior year.
While officially cleared by the police for any involvement in the shooting, many of Valerie’s classmates believe that she should be held accountable for helping to write the Hate List. Many others believe that she is a hero for stopping her boyfriend, yet she is still socially excluded from the school community. Valerie’s former best friend doesn’t want to be associated with her, and the only person remotely interested in showing any compassion towards her is the girl who she inadvertently saved.
Valerie’s life, already complicated by her guilt following the shooting, is made even more complex by the ever-increasing tension within her family, regular visits to her psychiatrist Dr Hieler, and the love she still holds for her dead boyfriend.
As a result, all Valerie wants to do is forget the horrible events of the past and pretend that none of it ever happened. But to be able to move on with her life and make amends, she first has to come to grips with the tragedy, and her role in it…
What I gained from reading this book:
Unfortunately, school shootings are more common than we would like to admit, especially in America. According to most news articles, the perpetrator is often described as the ‘quiet one’ who ‘no one really knew’, and the victims often can’t believe that something like this could happen in their close-knit community.
This novel subtly challenges the perception that these incidences are not borne simply from mental illness, but are spurred on by the hate and bullying that the shooter is often a victim of beforehand. In the novel, Nick and Valerie are teased mercilessly because they choose to look and act differently to their peers. While this in no way condones shooting people, it does help readers to see that there is often another side to the story, and that the victims of words and taunts are often overlooked when compared to the victims of bullets.
Valerie experiences conflicting physical and emotional feelings throughout the novel, and readers can’t help but empathise with what she is going through. The author is brilliant at portraying the trauma and guilt that Valerie feels, as she tries (with the help of Dr Hieler) to put the past behind her and get on with her life.
But her attempts at recovery are dampened by the fact that her family is disintegrating, and that her classmates are directing a mixture of confusion, fear, anger and forgiveness towards her, for her role in the tragedy.
Hate List cannot be considered a shallow or light-reading novel, for the hard-hitting themes and thoughts it provokes.
I honestly couldn’t find anything wrong with the story, but, like I mentioned above, if you’re after a light and easy read, this book is not for you. The themes in the story (ie. School shootings and bullying) could be confronting subject matter for some readers.
But this shouldn’t deter you from reading this otherwise exceptional debut novel.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Genre: Teenage Fiction
Recommended for: People who are interested in reading about one girl’s journey of guilt and atonement, after circumstances which she couldn’t have prevented.
Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below: