This was quite a ride. An emotional one, too.
Summary from the inside jacket:
Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.
Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends, and the girl whose life she saved, Val ust come to grips with the tradegy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.
I was really skeptical at the beginning of this, because the very first words I read, before the story even started, was a quote from a Nickelback song. Bleh. Ironically, Rachel over at Books I Done Read felt the same way. At least I’m not alone.
But as the story started unfolding, I found myself caught up in a lot of things. Things that surprised me. Like Nick. How Jennifer Brown made me both love and hate this man, I am not sure. Because of the before-and-after narration switches, I saw him as both a monster and a loving, caring boyfriend. I saw him as confused and lost and deeply troubled. I saw him as someone asking for help and dropping signs, but never being heard. And I think this was crucial. In order for the reader to feel sympathy for Val and her situation, they need to see both Nick’s lighthearted, caring side, as well as the fact that Val, along with everyone else, has misread him.
And another thing about this novel: It was layered. It was so much more than just Val dealing with the aftermath of a terrible crime. It was so much more than just teen angst. It was a story about family. And friends. And recovery. Val’s father is caught up in an affair. Val’s mother is struggling to regain confidence as a parent. Val is learning to cope with loss, to move on, to “see what’s there.” She is trying to rediscover who she is, because ever since the shooting, she has seen herself as nothing but guilty. As have most of classmates.
But the turning point, I think, comes in the form of Jessica, the girl whose life Val saved by mistake. The girl who was, before the incident, a bit of a bully. The girl who Val hated. The girl, who like many, was on the Hate List. Jessica keeps saying “Val didn’t shoot anybody,” and I think this helped Val see the light ahead, the way out of the dark tunnel of guilt. The infamous Hate List was something that both Val and Nick contributed to together. Val was using it to vent. And Nick took it to far. They both loaded the gun, through that list, but Nick alone, pulled the trigger. That is a fine line of distinction, but a line nonetheless.
And these fine lines are delivered so effortlessly by Jennifer Brown throughout the story. Fine lines between feeling guilt and being guilty. Fine lines between seeing what you think is there and seeing what actually is. There are fine lines to everyone. To everything. Even the stampeding horses on Val’s bedroom wallpaper. They may feel like they are running, that they are a means of escape, but they are motionless and frozen in space. (If you’ve read this book, you know what I’m talking about here).
It is a gut wrenching ride, following Val as she discovers this, but it is well worth the read. Val’s voice is believable, and her story, unforgettable. And I cried, I must admit. Tears of pain and despair, and in the end, wonderful tears of hope.