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 she 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 must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.
My Thoughts: Jennifer Brown spins an intricate story of betrayal, loss, family, friendship and love in her debut novel, Hate List. An innocent list goes wrong when on a normal Friday morning, Valerie's (Val) boyfriend, Nick, opens fire at their high school. Then, after accidently shooting Val, Nick turns the gun on himself. Lonely and insecure, Val is left to come to terms with her feelings about Nick - the Nick she knew vs. the monster everyone believes him to be - deal with a rapidly deteriorating family, and live with the accusals from not only her fellow classmates but also from her own mother, father, and brother.
Hate List was a gripping emotional roller coaster ride. I literally couldn't put the book down because I was so absorbed in Val's internal conflict. I was happy when she was happy, sad when she was sad. I even cried a little with all the guilt her own parents forced her to take on. I can't say I've been in Val's situation before, but she was just so real and her emotions so tangible; I feel like she's sitting beside me right now, looking mournful but whispering words of hope in my ear.
Jennifer Brown tackles many views and values, ranging from friendship to family to love. Can we ever be truly rid of hate? Val says no, the world is driven by it. Is there a clean-cut definition for bad vs. good? Hm, Val's not sure. Hate List brings up the interesting concept that all people are just that, people, regardless of what horrid crimes they may commit. It's hard for me to think of a terrorist and remember that that person has a family, has feelings, has emotions. Those aspects might be twisted in some instances, but they're there though we often cloud our opinions with hatred or fear. So who is Nick really: that sweet boy that fooled around with Val when she was down or that murderer who took innocent lives and irreversibly changed others? Was he the victim or the prosecutor? Overall, very thought provoking.
Onto more technical aspects, the organization of the book was a little confusing at first, but I enjoyed it after I got into it. There are occasional snippets of news reports that I loved reading because they allowed glimpses of the victims' lives, and Val's memories of her and Nick were subtly melded into the story. I could really see the impact of the shooting on the school and the long steps to recovery on all sides. Minor complaint was that I felt Val's new "friends" were jerks 90% of the time and wish I could've seen more development on the school front, like her making a "real" friend. And a little bit towards the end, I felt like Val was taking 2 steps forward, 1 step back. In general though, I was satisfied with how Hate List ended (though fast in comparison with the rest of the book). It's realistic, but there's that promise of the happily-ever-after.
Romance: Mild. Conceptual. I was actually sort of surprised about how there's basically no physical romance. It's more about the concept of love (think Val's past with Nick) and no real start to a new romance. However, that didn't make the book any less good!
Cover: 3.5 - can you tell I'm a harsh grader? But I like how bold the lettering is and how the blue stands out from the black background.
Bottom Line: Hate List was a gripping novel with relatable characters (even if you don't like them much), a moving plot, and so many conflicting emotions and concepts. I seriously couldn't put this book down. I would recommend this to anyone who loves seeing the cutting edge of the side of paradise and looking for something amazing.. there's my bias speaking. But, basically, Hate List was a long journey of recovery and rediscovery, and I would like to congratulate Jennifer Brown on an astounding debut!