First Lines: The scene in the Garvin High School cafeteria, known as the Commons, is being described as “grim” by investigators who are working to identify the victims of a shooting spree that erupted Friday morning.
I know; this book has been out for like, six years and I’ve only just now read it. But the fact is, the concept of this book terrified me. I’m a teacher, and after witnessing the horror of Sandy Hook (because I’m too young to remember Columbine), I was terrified this would be a book to make me fearful of my job. So, I waited until summer vacation to read it.
Five months ago, Nick Levil opened fire in the school cafeteria. Valerie, Nick’s girlfriend, was shot trying to stop Nick and inadvertently saved the life of a classmate. But Valerie’s being investigated because of a list she helped Nick make: a list of everyone they hated in school. The list Nick used to pick his targets. After a summer in seclusion, Val decides to return to Garvin High to confront her guilt and finish her senior year. Haunted by memories of Nick, her former friends, and the girl she saved, Valerie must come to terms with what happened to move on with her life.
Thankfully, this book was about so much more than simply a school shooting. A little less than half of the book really has a large focus on that. And that’s mostly to recount what happened and how Val dealt with it immediately afterward. Then the rest of the book is about Val trying to move on with her life. I appreciated that. And I can’t imagine how awful it would be to be in Val’s shoes, learning that the boy you loved was capable of something so terrible.
There are some good themes here. There are obviously ones like overcoming grief and moving on. But there are also themes of forgiveness, learning what it means to be happy, and discovering new friends in the strangest places.
Valerie is an interesting character. She is far from being a role model in the beginning. She’s wounded (literally and psychologically), she’s imperfect, she’s whiny, and she’s a little bit of a brat. But there was something about her that, by the end, she was really endearing. I rooted for her. It’s so hard not to feel for her when she’s dealing with so much, even if some of it she inadvertently caused.
This story can be tough to read at times. It is emotional. It’s rough, and sometimes it’s frustrating. (The kind of frustrating where you feel like you’re screaming and no one hears you.) But these characters are human and the story is real. An enjoyable read, though a serious one.