Last week, I was able to participate in the 20 minute book club that is at the end of every That's How I Blog show that Nicole does. It was so much fun and the discussion of The Forest of Hands and Teeth made me appreciate the book more than I had while reading. Which, I think, is the benefit of discussing books....we get new perspectives and ways of looking at things.
So I decided I wanted to try to read as many of the 20 minute book club books as I could. Michelle chose Hate List, a book I knew she loved but hadn't really been on my radar. I quickly secured a copy and began reading. First I have to say that NO ONE TOLD ME that I was going to sob pretty much throughout the entire book and I started reading in public. So my first warning is don't read this on the bus or at the coffee shop like I did, because this is a very emotional book.
Hate List is the story of Valerie. The book opens the first day that Valerie has to return to school but she doesn't want to go. In fact it's very difficult for her to go because the last day she was at school, her boyfriend shot several of their classmates including Valerie, and then shot and killed himself. And for awhile, Valerie was also a suspect in the plan because she had helped to write a list of everyone they hated at the school, and that's the list Nick was going after on the day of the shooting.
So we have Valerie, who's struggling to come to terms with the fact that she helped make a death list but is also deep in the throes of grief over her boyfriend of three years. She sincerely and deeply loved Nick and the shooting was a huge surprise to her. She never took seriously his talk of death. And the hate list which she started, was nothing more than a coping mechanism for the constant bullying they endured. To Nick, it became a guide on who to kill.
But Valerie has one huge thing in her favor which is that she's the one that stopped the shooting. So not everyone at the school hates her but there is definitely a lot of discomfort.
Man this story broke my heart. Brown digs really deep into the emotional reality of what Valerie is going through...and she's going through a lot. She starts at a place of rock bottom in the book, grieving alone, enduring alone, coming to terms with what happened and how to build a new life. What happens when the person you loved most, who was your sanctuary does something so terrible? And then is also lost....you still have to grieve. You grieve even when it wasn't all right, even when that person did something terrible. And she's got a lot against her, but luckily there are a few people on her side.
And what I love is that Nick is actually painted pretty sympathetically. What he did was absolutely wrong but Brown shows how it didn't happen in a vacuum. It wasn't an act of random violence, it sprang from a place of deep hurt and despair. And of course we are seeing this through Valerie's eyes (the book is first person) who loved him deeply but Nick definitely broke my heart. And so did Valerie. And so did the kids who who were shot who were on the hate list, who wrestled with their own profound guilt and suffering.
But it isn't all gloom and despair...this is a story of rebuilding. There's not sunshine and puppies or empty platitudes or easy answers. But it is a story of a lot of people trying to heal, trying to figure out what it means to move on to forgive and to love. And because this book is grounded in the real world...that doesn't work out for everyone.
I shed a lot of tears during this book, more than I can remember for a long time. I've been thinking about it, too, thinking so much about it. It's the kind of book that while emotionally devastating you, also makes you want to be kind to the people in your life because you never know what their private hell is. And it sort of makes you want to take all teenagers in the world and give them a big hug and say, "this too shall pass."
The endorsements on the back of this book are misleading. They say things like, "must read." Well just about every book says that. I think it should say something like, "one of the year's most heartshattering reads, read only with a box of kleenex, but for the love of God, read this book!"
Huge thanks to Michelle for picking Hate List for her Blog Talk Radio show tonight and Nicole for adding the 20 Minute Book Club to it.
Things You Might Want to Know: Some language
Source of Book: Bought it
Publisher: Little, Brown