Kent State Kent State (9781338356281): Wiles, Deborah: BooksFirst Lines: You are new here,/and we don’t want to scare you away,/but we want you to know the truth,/so we will start by telling you what is most important:/They did not have to die.

I got an advanced copy of this from Edelweiss.  When I taught 7th grade English, we actually use to talk about the Kent State shooting in this nonfiction unit we did.  So when I saw there was a book in verse coming out about it (this May marks the 50th anniversary), I had to read it.

May 4, 1970.  Kent State University.  What started as protests against the Vietnam War and the draft soon rolled out of control as Guardsmen were called in, violence erupted, and four students were killed.  To this day, there is still arguments over what exactly happened.  From multiple perspectives–Guardsman, townie, student, and protester–you get the chance to decide for yourself.

I find that with serious topics like this, books told in verse tend to hit the emotions better. But the problem I had (and this might be because maybe Kindle changed the format somewhat?) was that there are a lot of people talking and I could barely tell them apart. I was only 100% positive about two out of roughly 6 (according to my count) narrators. The others tended to blend together and it was never explicit who they actually were. Perhaps the printed version will be easier to follow, but this was a mess for me. You can only tell them apart by things like italics, ALL CAPS WRITING, one in a different color, one that doesn’t use any capitalize letters, and two that honestly looked normal and I have no idea what the difference was but they argue with each other.

However, the subject matter and application of different voices was well done. There were lots of survivors with lots of different perspectives. These voices cover anything from protesting students, non-protesting students, citizens of Kent, a Guardsman, and a Black student. Some thought the Guardsmen were the monsters; some thought it was the students. Seeing that really brings home how divisive the times were. It also tells the story in a slightly unreliable way because the “witnesses” tend to contradict each other a little, which is what actually happens when people recount an event.

Obviously the meat and potatoes of the book is May 4 itself.  (…Why did I just phrase it that way??  Anyway…) For that section, I thought the reality of what happened was emotional, devastating, and still factual. Oh, and maybe keep this away from younger readers? It doesn’t shy away from details about how exactly people died.  It’s gruesome.

It’s an important read and it’s definitely a story that still needs to be told.  I just think the narrators could have been a LOT clearer.

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