Hate List, by Jennifer Brown, starts when you might expect it to end. Seventeen-year-old Valerie is alive. Her boyfriend, Nick, is not. Angry as hell and sick to death of being bullied, Nick went on a shooting rampage at school one morning, killing six and injuring several others--including Val--and then turned the gun on himself.
In the aftermath, police discovered a notebook of Val's that contained a "hate list", in which Val and Nick listed all the people and things they despised. Some of the people on the list are dead. People are trying to figure out if Val's a hero for stopping the shooting, a villain who helped plan it, or just a girl who didn't realize her boyfriend was on a path of violent destruction.
Isolated from her friends, unsure of whether the kids who survived the shooting will target or fear her, and under the anxious eyes of her warring parents, Val makes the difficult decision to return to school for her senior year. As she does, her therapist, Dr. Heiler, encourages her to try to "see what's real."
And that's what Hate List is about. A girl who's trying to see what's real. What I loved about this book was that NO ONE was simple. Not Nick, not Val, not the kids who bullied them. By starting the story as the dust has settled and "real life" must re-commence, the author allows the reader to see what's changed--and what hasn't. She shows us the differences between what characters always believed and what was actually happening. The differences between the picture the media paints and how things actually are. Hate List is not so much about a school shooting or bullying as it is about ALL the people involved living with the consequences of their actions ... and inaction.
I won't go into much more detail, but if you're interested in a pretty realistic psychological journey, check out this book. About a year ago, I read Dave Cullen's utterly amazing Columbine, and Hate List reminded me a little of some of the themes in that book, particularly about the public's need to have a neat, linear story because reality is just too darn complicated.
Obviously, not every kid who is bullied lashes out violently. Not every kid who is bullied tries to harm him/herself, either. Those are the stories that get our attention. They are the ones that spur lawmakers in the a$$ and get people talking. Just yesterday, President and Mrs. Obama held a conference at the White House on prevention of bullying. And check out this brand new website that was unveiled: StopBullying.gov.
I'm so happy to see this type of attention being devoted to this topic. I'm so sad that it's too late to help the young people like Phoebe Prince, Justin Aaberg, Hope Whitsell, Megan Meier, Ryan Halligan, Eric Mohat, Carl Walker-Hoover and so many others who didn't live to see it.
It wasn't possible to type those names without crying. But if we remember them, and remember how tragic and unfair it is that they're not with us anymore, then maybe we'll take action when we see even subtle signs of bullying or victimization, and maybe we can protect other kids--both those getting bullied as well as the bullies themselves.