Friday, March 11, 2011

Hate List: Living with the Consequences of Action and Inaction

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:

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.


  1. When I saw you were going to post on this book, I borrowed it from the library and started reading it Wednesday night. I couldn't put it down, and have never cried so much before while reading a book. I think the only time I wasn't crying was at the end. I hadn't expected to finish it on time, but ended up reading until 2 am (only to get up three hours later to blog).

    We've had a number of cases in Canada similiar to Colombine (one happened just weeks after the Colombine tragedy). And a number of teenagers are in jail for murder because of bullying.

  2. oh sarah! now you're making me cry!!!
    hate list is definitely on my tbr list now.

  3. Do you think that certain professions attract a bullying character? And maybe other professions attract characters that protect others from bullies? Of course there are professions in which the bullies and bullied are mixed. Teaching comes to mind and other professions. Just examining.
    Very interesting series.

  4. This was such an amazing post. As someone who bullying has affected in a very real way, thank you for taking the time to focus on this issue. I lost my brother as a result of bullying at school many years ago. But now there are so many more positive places for teens to turn, including the it gets better movement and Again, thanks for bringing attention to this issue.

  5. It's such a difficult subject to read, I can't imagine how hard it is to write about it! I'm taking a break from darker stories because they haunt me and I've just read three in a row. I'll put in in the TBR pile for later, though.

  6. You know, a tattooed tear on a person's face can be gang tattoo. That was the first thing I thought when I saw the cover, though I doubt the publishers had that in mind.

    I like that this book is non-linear. It's right what you said about people wanting neat, linear stories. Life isn't like that. But when we read books, do we want life, or fictionalized life, or life through a fiction lens?
    (I don't have that answer, btw.)

  7. I've responded to most of you via email, so I just wanted to say--thanks for commenting!

    Lisa--I'm touched by your words and so sorry for your loss. There are more resources for teens now, but there's still a lot more to be done.

    Anonymous--I have my own opinions about this, which is that certain professions do draw people who enjoy feeling dominant and in control. But I think those temperament dimensions can be used to benefit people, just like they can be used to abuse. I also think that culture and environment shape people (I have some posts on the power of the situation that discuss this), and that even people who don't have a tendency to bully can become bullies if the right (read: wrong) social pressures are exterted in the absence of alternative, positive pressures and safeguards (again: Abu Ghraib). It's such an excellent question, though, and before I answered definitively, I'd want to check the research!

  8. Wow, this sounds like a really powerful book!

    I've really enjoyed this week's posts--nice job!

  9. The premise reminded me a little of the film Heathers - but the whole aftermath explored here sounds very interesting. It's great there are more resources for people being bullied - but part of me thinks that is just because there are more resources for people 'to get' bullied - texts, mobiles, emails, internet, social media - it's really frightening.

  10. I wonder if high schools use books like Columbine and the Hate List in their English programs....It seems like it would be a good way to bring up this hard to talk about subject. My daughter's high school has a class called Great Books which focuses on literature all year long.

    Thanks for the wonderful, informative review, Sarah.

  11. wow, sounds like a powerful book and sad to say it's very much an issue of today. Definitely on my TBR list.

  12. Thank you for posting about this book. I read it when it first came out and wished it had gotten more attention because it paints a very real picture of the "After." So many times we (as a society) focus so much on the one incident that we forget about those who were involved and forget they still have to live and move on...(And I'm in love with your blog, btw! SUCH great observations and tips! THANK YOU!)