Allison's Book Bag

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Posted on: October 22, 2013

With school shootings occurring on a regular basis these days, Hate List by Jennifer Brown is timely. Because it is told from the viewpoint of the shooter’s girlfriend, it’s also daring. Winner of many awards, Hate List works on some levels and doesn’t work on others, but overall it’s an interesting and thought-provoking read.

What works well is Brown’s exploration of the question of what makes a person bad or good, which she does not only through her main character, Valerie, but also through the shooter, his friends, and the bullies whose names were on the hate list. Let’s start with Valerie. On one hand, Valerie’s list helped set in motion the plan to kill half the population of her school. On the other hand, when she realized what was happening, she tried to stop the slaughter and got shot while trying to save another student’s life. Is she a villain or a hero? And what about Nick, the shooter? On one hand, he was the one who took the hate list too far by opening fire on fellow teachers and friends, including some who weren’t on the list but were simply protecting those who were. On the other hand, bullies made Nick’s life both in and out of school a constant hell. For example, one night when Nick tried to take Valerie on a date at a drive-in theater, some wealthy classmates ruined the date by spilling drink and food on him for no reason. Is Nick a bad kid destined for trouble? And what about the bullies? On one hand, Jessica is a smart and popular student who is on the Student Council. On the other hand, she’s one of the girls who daily ridiculed Valerie and made her feel like an outcast. Which of these characters is a hero? Which is a villain? Or do they fall somewhere in the middle? And what about the rest of us? What are we? These are questions that Hate List raises and no doubt everyone will have their own answer, which is what makes a novel like Hate List so valuable.

In interviews, Brown indicates that for her, Hate List was never about a school shooting, but instead was about how Valerie (and everyone else) faced life in the wake of that tragic day. What worked less well for me is the portrayal of Valerie. On a large scale, while I understand that Valerie faced dilemmas of her own that arose from the tragedy, her struggle with guilt seemed to overshadow any kind of remorse for the victims of Nick’s rampage. To be honest, I wanted her to suffer more. There should have been more nightmares and tears. Her regular expressions of love for Nick also seemed inappropriate. I get that Nick’s mom felt torn apart by this tragedy, but to me Valerie should have felt more a sense of betrayal than a desire to have Nick still with her. Yet perhaps this isn’t a fair judgment. Feelings aren’t purely ones of hate and love, any more than people are completely good or bad. On a lesser scale, while I understood why Valerie might resist talking to the police, I couldn’t understand her aggression towards those who tried to bring her to the psychiatric ward. Frankly, I don’t even know why Brown brought up the psychiatric ward, because Valerie gained nothing from her time there, and that part of the story felt lacking in research.

Hate List isn’t the first novel about a school shooting, and undoubtedly it won’t be the last. But it’s a good place for those interested in the subject to start. One day I want to read more, to compare how such novels are written and to find which is the best. School shootings, unfortunately, are now a part of our culture, and so are an important issue to explore.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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