Monday, August 2, 2010

REVIEW: Hate List

Are you ready for some serious reading?  Because that's what you'll get with Hate List.

Hate ListBrown, J.  (2009).  Hate List.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company.
408 pages.

Appetizer: Valerie Leftman was shot in the leg during a school shooting.  She'd been diving at the shooter at the time, but witness couldn't tell if she was actually trying to protect another girl, stop the shooter, or protect him.  

The shooter was her boyfriend, Nick.  They were each other's bright spots in their lives.  And they vented their frustration with the school bullies by writing a hate list of the people and things that upset them.

While Nick kills himself, Valerie survives the school shooting.  She has to come to terms with what her boyfriend, the person she relied upon most, has done and she must return to school to face the other survivors, most of whom think Valerie is at least partially responsible for the shootings.

The first part of the book is structured with chapters that go back and forth between the day of the shooting and Valerie's first day back to school months later.

The rest of the book deals with the aftermath of the shooting, from the time Valerie wakes up in the hospital and is suspected of having a role in the shooting, to being admitted for psychiatric observation, to looking over some newspaper articles and seeing how the media tended to portray the shootings with biases, to learning to express herself with art, to her meetings with her psychiatrist, to mourning, to finding she doesn't have to go through this alone or run away from her problems and finally to her graduation day.


As I was reading through the book, I almost didn't want to write a blog post, since my reactions to this book tended to be on a very personal level.

First off, like everyone else my age, I was in high school when the Columbine shootings occurred.  I remember very vividly watching the news reports in class as the reporters arrived on the scene and having one of my more idiotic teachers inform us that Columbine closely reflected the demographics of our own school.  So, what happened there could happen HERE.  A great thing to tell fourteen and fifteen-year-olds.  Just awesome.

I remember having extensive discussions about how, if there were a shooting, which teacher we would run to for protection  (Answer:  Thor, the aptly nicknamed math teacher).

I remember how a boy who used to wear a long black coat stopped wearing it after the shootings.

I also remember that I stopped adding to my own Burn List that I'd kept in my mind.

In the book, Valerie comes under scrutiny and suspicion from other students after it is publicized on many television shows and in newspaper that her Hate List of her difficulties with her school work, bullies and parents.  It's the list that Nick and her grew to share, was what guided Nick when he wandered the commons area of the school looking for people to shoot.

My list was never as concrete as Valerie's in the book.  Mainly my mental list consisted of people  like "that one guy, who cut off my mom while driving, that one time."  (I'd added him to the list at my mom's urging.)

Having this list provided me with comfort, a way of organizing all the things that had been upsetting me.  But I 100% nothing/nobody on my burn list would ever end up actually burned.

WAIT!  That's a lie.  I'm lying to you.  There was that one time I burned a few photos of me and an ex at a dance over the sink, with a glass of water nearby.  (Safety first!)  But that was, like, in senior year.  And it didn't help much.

My personal experiences and the content of Hate List book raised a lot of questions for me about warning signs and the way school shooters are publicly viewed.  Jennifer Brown does an amazing job of showing Valerie's confusion over Nick's actions--what she always thought were their inside jokes and fantasies about death he took very seriously.  Brown does a great job of showing both Valerie and Nick as a complicated characters.  When the media and police misunderstood her, I couldn't help but feel outraged for Valerie.  How can these people be so mean to each other?!

Likewise, a few of Nick's interactions with Valerie that occurred early in their relationship made me write an "aww, cute" once or twice in the margins.  And then I'd have to remind myself, "Wait!  This guy is going to be a killer."

Plus, as I was going through this book, I was also reading a book on children's folklore that included these examples of how kids adjust songs like The Battle Hymn of the Republic:

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school
We have tortured every teacher, we have broken every rule
He have planned to hang the principal, we boarded up the school
Our troops go marching on.
Glory, glory hallelujah, teacher hit me with a ruler
I met her at the door with a loaded 44
And she ain't my teacher no more--
I wonder whyyyyyyy."

Supposedly, versions of children's versions of The Battle Hymn of the Republic have become more violent over the decades as our culture has changed, since "I bopped her on the bean" probably wouldn't have the shock value using a loaded 44 would.  Sigh.

I don't remember singing any of the folkloric version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but one of my professors did (and in fact, she sang it for us...she went with the slightly less violent version).

I do, however, remember singing some modified version of this Barney song:

"I hate you, you hate me,
Let's hang Barney from a tree.
With a shotgun, boom, right in the head,
Now the purple thing is dead."

To be honest, I only remember singing the first line.  I feel like I sang some other version that wasn't in the children's folklore handbook.

So, basically, I was left with questions about how our culture could contribute to a mindset that could cause a shooting, but also contemplating how people need safe ways to express their frustration and anger.

I wasn't left feeling that Hate List gave me any answers to these questions.  But I still appreciate that it raised the questions and provided such a complex view of the aftereffects of a school shooting.

But the majority of this book isn't about the shooting.  It's about moving beyond the trauma and dealing with the problems that contributed to Valerie's situation.  And despite one quirky character that was a little too quirky for me to believe to be real *cough* Bea *cough*, Valerie's experience feels real.  (Although, I wasn't too crazy about the last page.  I wanted her to do something else after graduation)

Dinner Conversation:

"The scene in the Garvin High School cafeteria, known as the Commons, is being described as "grim" by investigators who are working to identify the victims of a shooting spree that erupted Friday morning" (p. 3).

"After I ignored the third snooze alarm, my mom started pounding on my door, trying to get me out of bed.  Just like any other morning.  Only this morning was just any other morning.  This was the morning I was supposed to pick myself up and get on with my life" (p. 6).

"And then one day I was having a really crappy day and all I wanted to do was get back at everyone who was making it that way.  So I got this idea that I would write down all their names in a notebook, like the notebook was some kind of paper voodoo doll or something.  I think I had this feeling that just writing down their names in the book would prove that they were assholes and that I was the victim" (pp. 133-134).

"A tear slipped down my cheek and, not for the first time, I ached for Nick to hold me.
"It's just that I feel like such a bad person because even now sometimes I find myself still wishing he was just in jail so I'd get to see him again," I said.  Suddenly I was struck with that memory again, Nick holding me down by my wrists on his bedroom floor, telling me we could be winners.  Of him leaning in to kiss me.  I sat on the couch, feeling more alone than ever before.  Feeling colder that I'd ever imagined possible.  Feeling like, of all the horror of what happened, this was the worst of it.  This was the worst because, even after everything that had been done, I still missed Nick" (p. 207).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

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