Publisher/Year: Little Brown Books For Young Readers- 2009
Genres: Contemporary YA
Other Books From Author: Bitter End, Thousand Words, Perfect Escape
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Valerie and her boyfriend Nick are a bit of outcasts at their school and they’d been writing a hate list full of people and things they hated in order to vent about it. Until one day five months ago, when Nick used that hate list as a target list in a deadly school shooting in the cafeteria. While Valerie tried to stop him as the event unfolded, and even saved a girl’s life, she’s been blamed for being just as much a part of this as Nick because she helped write the list. As the school year begins, Valerie is forced to go back to school with the peers who think she is guilty and the memories of what happened all while she tries to reconcile her role in all of this, the strained relationships between friends/family and the complicated feelings she has towards Nick.
This is my second Jennifer Brown book, the first being Thousand Words, and I do declare that Jennifer Brown is one the best when it comes to tackling tough, relevant issues in YA especially after reading Hate List. They are incredibly realistic, feel genuine and not at ALL preachy. There’s always room to think with her books and I LOVE that about them. I thought Hate List was better for me personally between the two I’ve read so far and that mostly is because I really found a strong connection to Valerie and I found myself just absorbed wholly into this story as it was super powerful and incredibly evocative.
I read this book at a strange time though personally as this story mirrored a situation going on with my nephew and his girlfriend. He is going through an angry phase and his girl friend is a very, very angry girl and there was a list written similar to this. Luckily, this situation has been taken care of but it made the predicament in the book all the more real. You look at something like a “hate list” and you have to wonder — is this just kids being angry but harmless or is it something more? In this day you can’t really look the other way.
That’s the sort of situation Valerie, the MC, found herself in. She and her boyfriend were writing this hate list as a way to vent about the people that were mean to them/that they couldn’t stand but it took on a whole new meaning for her boyfriend. What she thought was relatively innocent ended up not being so much and she had to deal with that in the aftermath — deal with that she contributed to this. This is where Hate List really soared. Jennifer Brown made me FEEL so conflicted about Valerie’s role and also understand why Valerie herself feels so conflicted as to what her role is in all of this. Is she a hero? Is she just as much to blame as her boyfriend who did the shooting?
I just can’t get over how realistic this book felt — how Valerie felt about going back to school, how her peers treated her, how even though people were changed it went back to normal in ways, how she still had so much love for Nick even after what he did, how it impacted her family (also: her dad is douche), how she felt conflicted about her role, the guilt she had etc. Sometimes with “issue-y” books, which I do love, I have the problem where I don’t feel like the characters are real and genuine and the issue itself takes precedence of the story but Hate List by Jennifer Brown did NOT have that problem. I loved how round the characters felt — even Nick. I LOVED her psychologist. I just wanted to hug him.
This story isn’t about a school shooting but rather the aftermath of the event on the shooter’s girlfriend, Valerie, who unknowingly had a had in it. It balances the glimpses from that day and the past with the very present reality. It’s a GREAT book — very powerful, emotional (yeah I cried), makes you feel conflicted at times and is very thought provoking. If you like books that tackle tough, relevant issues — definitely pick this up! I loved the way the story was told and I was so immersed in Valerie’s unique story.
Let’s Talk: Have you read this one? Heard of it? What did you think if you’ve read it? Have you read any other Jennifer Brown novels? Have you read any books that tackle school shootings in any capacity? I think this was my first one!