Hate List by 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.
(Description from Goodreads)
I’m not sure what draws me to these types of books, but this is probably the fourth school shooting YA book I’ve read since I started this blog; not exactly sure what that says for my book choices, but aside from that, this was a truly compelling and thought-provoking read. It was also terrifying and heart-wrenching as well.
Like the description says, Valerie’s boyfriend brought a gun to school at the end of the previous school year and shot several classmates, as well as a teacher; these people (for the most part) were on the “hate list” that was created by him and Valerie. Of course, Valerie had no real malice behind the hate list, as it was just a way for her to blow off steam when someone upset or angered her. However, Nick took it seriously. Hate List focuses on the following school year and how Valerie’s life changed forever from that incident.
Sometimes I find it hard to really connect with a character. However, that wasn’t the case with Valerie; I felt for her every step of the way. It was heart breaking to see her former friends shun her and ignore her at school and those who previously tormented her merely would stare instead; I’m not sure which is worse. Because of this Valerie was alone and treated as if she were the one who brought a gun to school and shot several people; because of her connection to Nick, people automatically assumed she was in on the shooting as well. Valerie was real…she had flaws, just like everyone else, and her life was falling apart. I honestly don’t know how she managed to pull through, especially since everyone was against her, including her own family. Of course, friendship can be created in unlike situations, as is seen with Valerie and the former tormenter she saved from being shot.
The characters, for the most part, had depth to them. Aside from Valerie, Nick was also a character I had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, we see a hateful teen who wants nothing more than to see certain classmates dead. On the other hand, we see Nick, the poetry-loving, soft hearted, boyfriend to Valerie. There were two sides to him, much like there are usually different sides to a real person; a specific situation may pull one side out and hide the other away. It was one heck of an emotional roller coaster throughout the entire book and it was easy to see how everyone could be a victim in their own way.
I must say though that I loathed Valerie’s parents. They were AWFUL. The mother felt her own daughter was a monster and that she had to protect society FROM her. The father was just terrible and should have been smacked in the head multiple times. Frankie, Valerie’s brother, was interesting, though I quite honestly do not know how I truly feel about him. one minute he was there for his sister and the next he was blaming her for everything. Hormones are so much fun. I also couldn’t stand Valerie’s former best friend and group of friends. They shunned her from their group because they thought she knew about what Nick was going to do all because she created the hate list. Again, Valerie had no true intentions behind the hate list; it was just her way to let off steam from those who bullied her.
This book was more focused on the development of the character Valerie than the plot. This isn’t to say that there wasn’t any plot, but that was almost secondary to how far Valerie came as a character throughout. By the end, Valerie had become a more stable character and was able to focus her thoughts and energy elsewhere. There were many struggles that were approached and there were many realistic qualities to this book, making it that much more thought-provoking.
There were aspects that I wasn’t a fan of and that I felt took away from the true story at hand. There was also a lack of true emotions from the other characters in the book, aside from Valerie. She was still bullied and still tormented; just because one person came to her rescue, that sadly isn’t enough to help someone out of despair sometimes. She had nothing to do with the shooting, but because of her connection to Nick, everyone thought she did. Aside from depicting the feelings of being alone and depressed, other emotions that were lacking were hate and fear, something that should be present in such a situation.
This book really made me feel for the MC, something that doesn’t always happen; however, she was the only character I truly felt for. The rest of the characters just made me mad, though I suppose that was their purpose.