Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Haven't been blogging for the past few days; lots of things going on (not a surprise since it's summer!). But you know, I still have been reading so, without further ado, here's a review!

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.

I’ve just finished reading Hate List by the talented Jennifer Brown and... oh my. It’s hard to find words to describe a book that at the same time is heart-wrenching, filled with hope, emotional and sometimes so full of angst and helpless, angry searching that it’s hard to pick it back up. Valerie’s journey of recovery, her questions about who she is, what she truly is and her courageousness makes for an unbelievable reading experience. It is a journey that is ultimately about love and loss, reality and isolation--themes that are just as relatable to any teenager going through rocky adolescence, even if they haven’t experienced exactly what Valerie struggles through.

You see, Valerie Leftman was the girlfriend of Nick Levil, Garvin High’s notorious high school shooter. While she ultimately stops the shooting and is praised by the school with something of an award for her heroism, she still has to deal with the fallout of the event and, let me tell you, it is a heck of a fallout. From dealing with her guilt, her parents’ constant fighting, her changing perceptions of the victims, to being struck down by obstacles that can make you choke back tears... it’s an emotional journey, let me tell you. Valerie’s voice is real. She could be someone you know of but don’t really talk to, that quiet girl in class who sits there doodling in her notebook. Her struggle is a testament to the resilience and hope that is needed to truly navigate those painful, turbulent waters of adolescence.

As you can see, I’m struggling to find the words to write this review. Honestly, this narrative is something else. You just get into Valerie’s head and everything she goes through is what you go through--her confusion, her heartbreak, her deep sadness, her angst. With so serious a subject matter, Jennifer Brown could easily have written ham-handedly, focusing too much on sentimentality. But she writes deftly, with layers and layers of events that converge into something whole, something real and something painful but so mesmerizingly filled with hope.

I know I’m starting to sound like some endlessly gushing fangirl but wow, the impact this novel had on me. Valerie deals with many events, some that could easily have swept her away from her path--instead, she finds inner strength and digs deep. She seeks help and she uses it when she has it. Valerie aside, the characters were fully developed, even those who had bit parts--especially Dr. Hieler and Valerie’s mother. While Mrs. Leftman teetered on the edge of severe melodrama and hysteria at the beginning, her character was one who grew along with Valerie. Her love for Valerie wavers unsurprisingly but it remains throughout the trials. Dr. Hieler was Valerie’s beacon of hope; through his direct but gentle prodding, Valerie finds a willing listener and is able to realize a few things about herself that she isn’t entirely averse to.

Now this is where I hastily summarize everything else I liked about the book. The events in the book and its dialogue were dealt realistically. Jennifer Brown’s straightforward but poignant prose leaves an impact without bogging down. While we see the events through Valerie’s eyes, we also see it through bits and pieces of reports about the aftermath of the shooting. The ending of the book will have you tearing up. All in all, Hate List is well put together and leaves the reader with a heavy heart filled with hope, one that is, as Valerie says, heavy not because of the past but because of the future.

Rating: 5 out of 5