Originally published at my blog Chasing Empty Pavements
I started this book on a whim because I’d seen it on other blogs before and I couldn’t decide among the INSANE amount of books I’ve gotten over the last couple months which book to read. So I randomly just scrolled through my kindle and put my finger on a book and lo and behold it was Hate List. I could not have made a more perfect decision though. This book surpassed my highest expectations. It shot straight to the top of my 2011 favorite reads.
The Good: There are so many things going right with this book that my mind is scrambled right now. From the opening lines of the book, “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" to the very end, this book not only captured my attention, but it had me by the throat, demanding that each page be read with intense fury. I guess I should start with the writing. Hate List is not only well-written but it is extremely addictive writing. Brown seamlessly moves from past to present, character to character without blinking an eye and it all works so well. You don’t know you’re 200 pages in until you look at the clock and realize you’ve been reading for a couple hours. That’s how much this book consumes you. So great writing? Check. Let’s move on to some of the issues brought up in this book. School Shooting. Love. High School. Bullying. Parental divorce and fighting. Poverty. This book touches on all those topics but the thing is…it goes SO much deeper than that. Our main character, Valerie is the girlfriend of a school shooter. What’s even worse is that the people he chose to shoot are people he AND Valerie put on a “hate list.” This novel goes deeper than that surface topic though and delves into the fact that just because something awful and disturbing has been done by Valerie’s boyfriend…she still loves him. Love doesn’t just stop immediately after something like that. It takes time. But what do you think the rest of the world would want her to do? Hate him? Yes…they do want that. Society expects that of her. Even Valerie expects that of herself. But that is not life! It’s not love. This book explores that difficulty of navigating between what society/life/Valerie expects out of her and than the reality of the matter. Another deeper issue this book brings up is the expectations of parental love. I’ve been told my entire life that no matter what, my parents will love me. No matter what. But what if I were to be involved with someone that shot 16 people? Would they still love me unconditionally? This is the question Valerie grapples with. Really, she is innocent as far as the shooting goes, but both of her parents don’t see it that way. She may not have physically shot those people, but it was her words, her relationship and her involvement with Nick that implicate her in the shooting as well. This is an incredibly difficult thing to have to deal with. Valerie is not only trying to recover from the ordeal and deal with her own guilty conscious but than to have your parents knowingly act like it was your fault is an awful feeling. The best example I can give is when Valerie’s dad is talking to her,
“No,” he said, without facing me. “Maybe it makes me a bad parent, but I don’t know if I can forgive you. No matter what the police found, you were involved in that shooting, Valerie. You wrote those names on that list. You wrote my name on that list. You had a good life here. You may not have pulled the trigger, but you helped cause the tragedy.”
And on the flip side of things…how would it feel to be the parent? How COULD you look at your kid, knowing they were in love with someone who killed so many people? Would I be able to forgive my child for that? Would you?
Another great issue that was brought up is something that I think is so remnant of teenage relationships. It’s this whole attitude of being so wrapped up in love, lust and feelings that you sort of just agree with the things the other person says. Whether its because you want them to trust you, like you, respect you or just have a feeling of camaraderie, sometimes it’s the “pretending” that ends up getting you more in trouble. For example, Nick talked about death and revenge a lot and when he’d ask Valerie questions she would either nod in agreement or say something neutral that would lead Nick to believe she understood what he meant and agreed with him, even if that’s not what Valerie truly thought. Brown completely nails this whole phenomenon with a couple of lines that come from Valerie, “Who was I kidding? I never even really belonged with Nick. Because I totally betrayed him, made him think I believed what he believed, made him think I would be on his side no matter what, even if he killed people.” This is exactly the issue, teens are so vulnerable and impressionable at the high school age and especially during new and powerful relationships. They are so willing to give themselves entirely to someone and they end up losing themselves before it’s too late to realize what’s going on. These issues are exactly why reading this book turned out to be such a huge experience for me. Instead of focusing JUST on the topical issues, Brown goes deeper and pushes the envelope to make people REALLY think about these things, make them question even their own moral beliefs. I love that this book is realistic and the school and the popular kids aren’t all hunky-dory after the shooting happens, because that is not real life when that happens. Speaking from experience of witnessing a school tragedy, people do not change all that much. Most of them keep on acting bratty, selfish and downright mean. But that’s not to say that no one changes, because sometimes they do. The girl that Valerie chooses to save in this book is completely altered by the experience and she really does change, but it’s not like a 180 change and suddenly she’s sugar sweet, it’s a gradual, grown-up change and it’s done so well that by the end of the book, you can’t help but adore the girl who was once such a witch to Valerie. I also loved watching Valerie’s growth from the beginning of the novel to the end. She grows so much as she navigates all the emotions she’s feeling and I appreciate that Brown allows her to be both the victim and the perpetrator at certain points. I also appreciate that Brown makes Valerie stand up for herself at certain times because really, it’s not fair the way she is treated and it would have been really annoying and unrealistic if she let Valerie play the victim the whole way through and let her blame herself entirely. It would have felt like a sob story a little bit. But watching Valerie get angry, shout and stand up for herself was wonderful and refreshing. Really there are probably lots of other things I could talk about in relationship to this novel, but I think I’ve rambled on enough and you get the hint that I really freaking loved this book. I finished it and literally ten minutes later bought the book for my sister who started reading it Christmas morning and ended up finishing it that night with the same feelings I had about the book.
I would recommend this book to anyone of any age. It may be a book that is set centrally around a teenage/high school character but the themes, topics and issues that are discussed are certainly more than that. I think so many types of readers would enjoy this book and find something extremely important to take away from it. I give it an A+!!