Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Hate List

The Book: The Hate List

The Author: Jennifer Brown

The Dealio: A novel which revisits a Columbine-esque tragedy from a teen's perspective, this book also reminded me of Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, but with a more intimate point of view: that of a victim, who also might just have been 'in' on the plan.
Valerie is your typical, artistic, sensitive, Goth outsider with quarrelling parents and a younger brother who thinks she is just a little too weird to be actually related to him. Into her life slouches the rebel-without-a-pause- Nick Levil (neat how his name is almost French for almost evil, the only oh-puleez moment in this entire book). He reads Shakespeare, focussing in on Macbeth and Lear-tragedies which seem to underscore his life-philosophy. Nick sees himself as the avenging spirit, (angel would be an exaggeration, just like Levil is), who not only sympathises with Valerie, but helps her, eggs her on, in creating the infamous 'Hate List' onto which go the names of all who have run afoul of the hapless couple. Food-throwing in the caf', keying cars, nicknaming Val 'Sister Death'- none of this goes without unnoticed, and soon the hate list is both lengthy, and beginning to be whispered about. When an incident on the bus causes Valerie to gripe, 'I could just kill her for that!', Nick agrees...and promptly opens fire on the perpetrator of the incident. In-school cameras follow the destruction and violence as it escalates, and, when Val either pushes a would-be victim out of the way (saving her life) or slips and falls, but still manages to save the targeted student, Valerie herself is critically injured, and Nick kills himself. This all happens in the first few pages of this book. So. Now comes the delicate part: what does all of this do to the victims who survived, and the families of those who do not? What does it do to Valerie-a huge question mark hovering over her head as everyone around her- especially her family- tries to address the questions and the emotions that threaten to overwhelm?

The Grading Session: 4.78 pengies out of 5. I got through this one in one sitting, prohibited from putting it down by the unique, involving view of the teen at the very center of the controversy and the blow-back. Also intriguing was the responses of the people who encounter and interact with her from day to day. I actually felt her pain and horror upon returning to school for the first time since the tragedy. Some very evocative writing-and thinking- going on in this debut novel. Disliked the artwork on the cover. Big whoop! Who cares? Read it anyway.

Lessons Learned: 'Eyewitness' accounts and even raw video feed can give you some basics, but there ought to be a class in high school or college called 'Perspective: When the Eyes Lie'. Cuz what you see is not necessarily what you get. Too, it is possible for those closest to a person to still be surprised and shocked by them and their actions. Does that make you responsible for what they did? It does not. Does it make you wish you had paid closer attention? Definitely. that.

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