Hate List by Jennifer Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This young adult novel about a girl whose boyfriend commits a school shooting is an entertaining read, but uneven. It starts out well, and Brown's writing is highly readable. The narrator, Valerie, is believable and the descriptions of the shooting itself are well done. I could feel the confusion and terror, especially on the part of Valerie, who had no idea of what was coming.
She's caught in a strange limbo afterwards. The "hate list" was her idea, a list of people and things that she and her boyfriend Nick couldn't stand. Is she a perpetrator or a victim herself? At this point in the book, I couldn't put it down. Then the problems started mounting up. (warning, spoilers on the way)
First, there is Nick's dark friend Jeremy, who seems to have influenced him, and who, in fact, drops him off at school the day of the shooting. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop about Jeremy, but he completely disappears from the story at that point, and is never mentioned again. Then there is the art supply store owner Bea, who seems to know Valerie, even calling her by name, but we never find out how she knew. Plus, she is so airy-fairy that I half expected her to pull out a wand and some magic dust. Just the right person at just the right time, and discovered totally by accident! Wow! Really?
The secondary characters are well enough drawn, if they would keep their mouths shut. The dialogue is pretty weak. However, I did like that the boyfriend is shown as being a mix of good and bad, reading Shakespeare and capable of sweetness, then committing something monstrous. Valerie's parents aren't likeable at all, but I found them to be believable, at least the weak, hand-wringing mother. The dad was awfully harsh, but some people are. Also, the adults at the school didn't seem real to me. Call this the YA Fiction Syndrome, in which adults are robo-dolts who spout cliches and miss the important stuff entirely while fixating on eat-your-peas.
At its best, this novel had me itching to return to it any time I got interrupted. I mostly loved the first three hundred pages, but the last hundred were a letdown. Everything slows down when it should be paying off, and story threads and problems that have been ongoing from the start are neatly tied up in a page or so. Dad's a heartless sonofabitch who always cuts you off at the knees? No prob, a glance his way at graduation lets you know that all will be well in time. Oh Valerie, you simple bumpkin. At least she doesn't just take off without a plan at the end. Oh wait. She does.
Half-heartedly recommended, kinda sorta. Or, just dig up a copy of Judith Guest's "Ordinary People" and read that instead.
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