Monday, January 11, 2021

Book Review: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Title: Hate List
Author: Jennifer Brown
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 405
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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.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t read about books before I buy them. If the title and/or cover looks good, or if I see it around Bookstagram, I buy it. Around Christmas 2019, I was going to bookstores a lot because I knew I’d miss going to them once I moved to Guam, and boy was I right. I picked up Hate List by Jennifer Brown during this time and I finally read it.

Hate List is about Valerie Leftman, who’s boyfriend Nick Levil committed a school shooting in their cafeteria during their junior year of high school. In trying to stop him, Valerie was shot in the leg but because of the Hate List that she and Nick created, the one that determined who he wanted to kill, she was implicated in the shooting and treated as a suspect. Even though she was eventually cleared by the police, Valerie still had to deal with the aftermath of the shooting.

Senior year is supposed to be one of the best years of your high school career, but for Valerie, it required her to face her guilt over the list, the shooting, and Nick. Nick took the coward’s way out - he killed himself so that he wouldn’t have to face the repercussions of his actions. Instead, he left that for Valerie to do.

This is the first book I’ve ever read that had the plot of a school shooting. When I started the book, I thought it would be about what happened and what led up to it. Instead, it was about Valerie and her life before and after the shooting. It’s about her relationships with her family, community, friends, and classmates. It’s about the aftermath of trauma and how different people handle it various ways. This was a very humanizing book. There were times when Val’s character made me want to rip my hair out and burn the book and I’ve seen reviews where people gave the book a negative rating because of how much they hated her. But what I think these people failed to realize is that Valerie was written as a teenager; a 17/18-year-old young woman who went through something extremely traumatic and damaging. Of course her character was going to seem whiny, immature, annoying, self-centered, etc. She is a young woman trying to put her life back together and move on while everyone around her tries to keep her down with who and what they perceive her to be.

At the end of my copy of Hate List was a novella called Say Something. It was about David, a friend of Nick’s who suspected that Nick was planning something bad, but he didn’t have the courage to say anything. And even when Valerie spent their senior year being hated and even threatened for what people thought she was part of, David still didn’t say anything. The novella also talked about bullying practices that were still going on one year later; showing that even after enduring something traumatic, some people never change.

In school, I never experienced bullying nor did I ever witness it, so I can only empathize with what Valerie, Nick, and every other “outcast” in the book went through when they were bullied. It’s emotionally jarring to read about bullying and the impacts it can have on people. I, personally, would love to see Hate List and Say Anything on required reading lists for middle schools. I think it’s a very important book that could help bullies realize that what they are doing to others is hurtful and it can have a dire effect on everyone around them.