That Night

Image result for that night by amy gilesFirst Lines: It’s funny, in a tragically not-really-that-funny kind of way, what I do remember of that night.  Like how warm it was for March and Ethan wouldn’t shut up about how that was because of global warming.  How the last of those dingy gray mountains of snow piled up in the corners of the parking lots had finally melted, leaving behind puddles as the only evidence of their once-towering existence.  How Marissa was wearing Ethan’s hoodie because she said she was cold, even though it was warm, and how I realized with the passing of that sweatshirt that my brother and my best friend liked each other.

For some reason, this caught my eye at the library.  And even though it’s another incredibly dark topic, I kind of really wanted to read it.  (Someone really needs to start acting as my conscience when I go to the library.  Jiminy has disappeared.)

On a warm March night, an unspeakable tragedy takes the lives of 18 people in a Queens neighborhood, throwing the lives of Jess Nolan and Lucas Rossi off-kilter forever.  In the year since the shooting, Lucas has taken up boxing and deals with his over-protective parents while keeping a list of random acts of kindness he’s done to repay the universe for letting him live–and repaying the debt to his deceased brother.  Jess struggles to take care of her extremely depressed mother and make ends meet with the help of her elderly neighbor.  Without her best friend, who now attends a post-trauma school halfway across the country, and her brother, who died that night, Jess feels completely alone in the world.  When Jess and Lucas’s paths cross at their after school job, they start becoming friends, and maybe more.  Their community was changed by violence, but Jess and Lucas are learning to move forward–together.

As a teacher who’s gone through at least 2 intense active shooter drills in the last 5 years, I mildly thought I was insane for even picking this book up. But at the same time, I was drawn to it because it is something we, as a society, have created.  We made this mess and this is the consequence.

And honestly, it didn’t go the way I expected. Not exactly.

The story starts almost a year since a shooting at a movie theater that took the lives of 18 people. It never goes into detail about the shooting and instead focuses on those left behind. Jess was at the movies with her brother and best friend. She survived because she went to the concession stand. Lucas was there with his older brother, who shielded Lucas during it all.

But it really shows the ripple effect. The loss of even just one life affects so many people. To take 18 lives at one time, the seismic shift is so much more severe. And grief impacts everyone different, from the way Jess deals to the way Lucas deals to the way their parents deal to the way the random kids at school deal with it. It’s heartbreaking but also incredibly hopeful in the way that life can continue on after. (That feels like it’s insensitive, but this story truly is about learning to move past the tragedy.)

The characters all felt real and their journeys even more so. You feel the pain along the way, but also the blossoming hope as they find solace in each other.

The plot was good, though admittedly pretty depressing in the beginning. It’s a little hard to want to keep reading it at that point, but it does get so much better. And I learned a lot from this.

This was really good. In this day and age, this book seems incredibly important because it reminds us to focus on the people left behind, the survivors. Not the tragedy itself or the perpetrator. The survivors are the ones that need our attention.

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