Thursday 20 May 2010

Review - The Hate List / Jennifer Brown

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. Goodreads.

Review - Words have enormous power. If certain words are said to you over and over again, they start chipping away until there's nothing left by anger, desperation and hopelessness. While Brown's novel revolves around a tragic school shooting and the fallout for the shooter's girlfriend, it is ultimately about the power of communication. The power to strike one down and also the power to heal breaches.

The Hate List has a very powerful premise and features strong writing by debut author, Jennifer Brown. While it made me think, feel and reflect it isn't a book that I would necessarily recommend to people. It didn't have that indefinable factor that would rob me of breath. Valerie isn't all that sympathetic, she's been tormented the last few years and as a result started working on a list of people she hated. A list her boyfriend used to compile a Hit List for his school massacre.

It's a powerful read. It is a thought provoking read. It had some challenging characters and graceful arcs but in the end I didn't really buy into it. Call me a skeptic but it felt a little flat and perhaps that has something to do with my own cynacism. Valerie continually states that she didn't see this coming and really who would? My concerns with her is that the evidence the police come across that is condemning of her - I can't believe that she wouldn't have realised that she and Nick were having so many conversations and emails about death. He was obviously aware and I don't completely buy that it was part of storytelling for her. We learn, as a minor detail in the beginning, that Nick was hanging around a guy that smoked pot and beats his girlfriend. This from a guy who killed people based on who they were friends with and how they treated others? It didn't sit well with me because Valerie chose to be with him while he was volatile, and high, and death obsessed. It's like her brain didn't switch on until he shot her and I understand that was part of Brown's intent, that Nick and her parent's issues all fogged her somewhat, but it put me at a distance.

The Hate List is an important book as it will make the reader think about their words, no matter how inconsequential. The subject matter is dark and challenging, the protagonist is complex and fragmented and the story involving but in the end, it didn't completely gel for me on a personal level. I do credit Jennifer Brown for an outstanding debut - I look forward to her future work.

Publisher: Little Brown
Format: Hardback, 405 pages
Published: 2010
Source: purchased
Origin: USA


Anonymous said...

This is definitely something that I don't want to read. I am always suspicious of books that deal with this sort of topic, as you say "Nick was hanging around a guy that smoked pot and beats his girlfriend"? WHAT?
Mental illness is a serious topic, poorly handled in YA literature and I decided that I won't take it anymore in this specific scenario.

Steph Su said...

That's how I felt about this book too. There was just something... missing. I thought it could've been done better. But like you, I will also be keeping an eye out for Jennifer Brown in the future.

Mrs. DeRaps said...

I absolutely loved this book. I didn't have the same impressions that you did--that maybe the story was far-fetched in any way. I (unfortunately) have dealt with a similar issue (in my role as a teacher), and felt like I was reading about the students involved. It definitely rang true to me. Thanks for promoting this book!

Robby said...

I want to read this book so badly. I'm afraid to, for more than a few reasons. It sounds so powerful.

Sara said...

Awesome review! I'm actually reading this one right now. I read a million reviews claiming it was amazing, so that's what I was expecting. I don't really know how I feel about it. All I know is that I'm not so into it, as in I put it down plenty of times. Hopefully it gets better.

Ynysawdre Elderly Residents Association said...

I've had this one on my wishlist for a while now and heard varying criticism about it. Your review really laid it on the line, thanks. I am still debating whether to read it myself :)

Kathy Charles said...

I have this on my reading pile. Sounds right up my alley!

Anonymous said...

I just recently found your blog through the Ya, Ya, Yas, so pardon all my comments. I'm going to be adding you to my list of blogs to follow.

I actually enjoyed Brown's portrayal of the various reactions by the parents, friends, and classmates. I thought Valerie's attachment to Nick was portrayed through the flashbacks, two misfits clinging to eachother because they felt a little less alone when together. You can find my full review at my website: