Title: Hate List: A Novel
Author: Jennifer Brown
ISBN: 9780316041447
Pages: 408 pages
Publisher/Date: Little Brown and Company, c2009.

Like I would be happy about going back to school. About stepping back into those haunted halls. Into the commons, where the world as I knew it had crashed to an end last May. Like I hadn’t been having nightmares about that place every single night and waking up sweaty, crying, totally relieved to be in my room again where things were safe.
The school couldn’t decide if I was hero or villain, and I guess I couldn’t blame them. I was having a hard time deciding that myself. Was I the bad guy who set into motion the plan to mow down half my school, or th hero who sacrificed herself to end the killing? Some days I felt like both. Some days I felt like neither. It was all so complicated. (6-7)

Valerie Leftman was a normal teenager until her boyfriend decided to bring a gun to school and shoot up the school. Originally implicated because of a “Hate List” that she and Nick created together of things and people they hated, she was cleared because of the words of classmates who said she didn’t shoot anyone. Hailed a hero by the school because she inadvertently saved the life of a classmate trying to stop Nick, her classmates see her as a contributing factor. As her social life and family life spirals out of control as a result of the shooting, she must deal with not only the feelings of her classmates, but also her own mixed up feelings about the shooting and the shooter.

This is an amazing, intricate debut novel that sticks with readers and engages them until the end. Valerie is a complex character, trying to navigate through these feelings of hurt, betrayal, anger, guilt, selfishness, and loss, and that doesn’t come easily to her. She has several helpers along the way, including her therapist, a local painter, and finally her mother. I say finally her mother because she, along with the rest of the family and community, has to first come to grips with their own feelings before she can help Valerie heal. That’s another thing I like about the book, is that everyone doesn’t just forgive and forget, but all struggle equally. The shooter Nick is not just the misunderstood troubled teen, having his good moments portrayed through flashbacks that Valerie experiences for the reader of happier times. In one case, Valerie gets upset about Nick letting her win a video game, and he tells her

“It’s okay for someone to let you win sometimes, you know,” he said, getting all serious. “We don’t always have to be the losers, Valerie. They may want to make us feel that way, but we’re not. Sometimes we get to win, too.” (91)

I think this would be an excellent book discussion selection for a teen group. There’s so much to look at, like bullying, relationships, healing, and family dynamics, just to name a few. It’s a riveting, gripping read that I couldn’t put down and read in one sitting, proving that things aren’t as easy as black and white, hate and love.

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