The Hate List
June 24, 2013
Whenever there is a tragic school shooting, the first question that people ask is "why?" Why would someone walk into their school and begin killing their classmates and teachers? The easiest explanation, and the one that I think comforts people the most, is that the shooters were just plain evil, troubled kids that were destined to do something horrible. Afterwards, most people only look at what could have been done to prevent these monsters from committing their inevitable crime. This explanation is so popular because it means that we don’t have to really look at the perpetrators or the environment (an environment that we might have had a hand in creating) that might have helped contribute to their actions.
In the book, Hate List, author Jennifer Brown looks at the events leading up to and the aftermath of a horrific school shooting, not through the one who did the shooting but through his girlfriend. Valerie Leftman just thought of it as a joke, a way of venting her frustration with her classmates and teachers. That's all the Hate List was to her. Unfortunately, she did not realize that her boyfriend, Nick, saw it as more of a hit list. That only became obvious to her on the day that he walked into the school and began shooting. Suddenly, Valerie finds herself having to protect a girl she despised from the boy that she loved, deal with the fact that he shot her, and rectify her feelings about his death. In one single moment, her life is changed in a way that is brilliantly and beautifully explored in this thought provoking novel.
The many themes and issues that Hate List brings up are varied and complicated. Valerie’s struggle to come to terms with what happened, to deal with her feelings about Nick, and confront her own potential culpability in a tragedy are all explored. Was there something that she could have done to prevent what happened? Was she partly to blame because she had helped to create the Hate List, even though she had no idea of the consequences? Was it alright to still love the now deceased Nick, or was she supposed to hate him? Was she a hero who saved a life or a villain who unwittingly helped a monster?
This book struck me on many levels as I read about Valerie’s journey to rebuild her life after the shooting. One thing that was especially interesting was how people viewed Valerie’s actions through their own particular lenses. The girl that she saved thought that she was a hero. The media branded her an accomplice to a mass shooting. Her family blamed her for the all the unwanted attention the shooting brought; and the final break-up of her parent’s already shaky marriage is laid at her feet. And, all of this occurs as she is trying to understand how a boy she loved could have gone so wrong.
One of the things that caught my attention most in this book was that the person that Valerie considered herself to be was now viewed completely differently by everyone else. She felt that she was the same person as she was before, but others were now suspicious of her. All of her actions were being interpreted through the events that had just occurred. Suddenly, her every move was fraught with meaning. Coming home late used to be just an annoyance, now it became a cause for fear and trepidation to her parents. The time it takes Valerie to realize the change is interesting. She simply doesn’t seem to understand that she no longer has the freedom to simply be a regular teenager. Her life is now forever different.
Reading Hate List was difficult at times. We get to know exactly what was going on in Valerie’s head, while the rest of the world has to guess, and they often guessed wrong. Once you have been branded in a certain way, however, there is sometimes no going back. Then, there are the complicated feelings that you have towards the shooter, Nick. If you empathize with him in any way, you feel as if you are condoning his actions. Yet, you have trouble seeing him as just a monster, exactly like Valerie. While this book does not tell you how or why school shootings happen, it does make you realize that the reasons for shootings are never simple, nor are the consequences for those involved, especially those who were close to the perpetrators. Whatever your feelings, in the end, this book will definitely make you think about schools and violence. And maybe more importantly, about how we treat each other.