Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult

Review: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

hate listThe powerful and timely contemporary classic by Jennifer Brown — now including the bonus Hate List novella Say Something!

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.

Jennifer Brown’s critically acclaimed novel now features a brand-new cover and the bonus novella Say Something, another arresting story that digs deeper into the powerful themes of Hate List.

5 stars

Young Adult Fiction | Contemporary | Realistic Fiction

It is strange right, to see one of my first reads of the new year actually something other than romance genre? I mean, Young Adult Fiction, and a realistic fiction at that – I don’t even know where to begin…. I suppose here we go, right? Here’s hoping I don’t ramble because I have a lot to say, and I do mean a lot. 

When I first saw Hate List I was down right conflicted. The synopsis in just a matter of seconds had me hooked; an absolute darkness about school shootings, the cracks of the social politics that is our teenage years, to real delve into the plague that clouds everything. It is dark, twisted, incredibly sad, dare I say physiologically crippling and I am happily satisfied. The main captivating front point is our main focus of the novel, it wasn’t necessarily the shooter or the victims but rather the middle individual, Valerie Leftman. 

We all got to be winners sometimes. But what he didn’t understand was that we all had to be losers, too. Because you can’t have one without the other.

Valerie is such a memorable, easy to sympathize type character. The reliability of her character spoke volumes. Many angles I felt her emotions, the anger, self doubt, hatred, loathsomeness, pity, guilt – the seer devastation of worthiness. Reviling in the aftermath was beyond heartbreaking. I think a lot of the ability to relate to her as a character comes from the fact that even as adults, we understand we use to be teenagers, are emotions are so hard because we haven’t yet understood the full capacity that our lives have just simply started. The hatred for herself for writing those names yet to be on the other side of bullying, you cannot completely fault her for writing names on a so called ‘Hate List’ because in reality, we all do it. On the other angle we also love so hard and Valerie is a prime example of that first love. She clung to Nick, even after the shooting, understanding what he did (… what she partially had a hand in) and his death, she still loved him. Not because he did or didn’t do, but because Nick was the one person in her corner for a long time, the immeasurable sacrifices that development in our minds to conform, convenience, and ultimately the entire outlook on life when that one person has our full attention, that was what Nick was to Valerie. She clung to who he was the day at the lake together, the happiness, the romance. Oh my heart shattered for Valerie’s emotions towards Nick throughout the novel. The moment she finally finds herself at his grave… just rip out my heart won’t you?

And speaking of Nick, he wasn’t just ‘The Shooter’ of May 2nd 2008 in Commons, but Brown made him human. Deliciously flawed human. Getting glimpses of the days leading up, to the second of each killing, seeing Nick through Valerie’s eyes was astonishing, perhaps even expected. He was not simply this evil boy, he snapped. Utterly sad, completely shattered and angry human being. Bullying is a tricky beast of sorts, the way we handle it is, or at least when I was growing up told that it was, something we should just lean to deal with – this is NOT okay. Nick is the example of what happens when someone is tired of being kicked in the ground, toyed with and watching his world crumble. Please DO NOT take this as me condoning this in the least, no one deserves to die, but what Brown did to Nick was give the empowering question a face. She humanized the situation in a way that gives such a powerful reception on what social politics has on our teenage world – just… ugh my heart is still pounding. 

People do it all the time–assume that they “know” what’s going on in someone else’s head. That’s impossible. And to think it’s possible is a mistake. A really big mistake. A life-ruining one if you’re not careful.

So not only does the novel speak from the perspective of Valerie, also getting tidbits of the day of the shooting, it also gives the aftermath in the mix of the present. It is interesting to see the devolution verses evolution between the dynamics of the cast. Having no other clues to the interactions other than from Valerie, you still can get a very good sense of the lunchroom between both the dead victims and the surviving victims. There was definitely something to be said about each character that came into contact with Valerie post-school return, it was interesting to see how her friends acted, though not completely unjustified while watching the individuals who had previously hated her treat her with kindness. Interesting is definitely the word I would go with… 

And that party scene. It absolutely shattered every feeling I had, I felt beyond crippled. I cannot even put into words just how pivotal that scene was for Valerie, it was the bridge-way to her actual recovery. 

Something that did strike me in the gut was the adults. It really didn’t take full circle until two particular moments in the book, though there were many, it was two specific spots that simply stabbed me in the heart. Since I mentioned the party (which I won’t spoil… obviously), leading up to this moment, Ted, which is Valerie’s father has been mentioned but not much novel time, I was curious why. There was a moment of clarity when Valerie meets Ted at his work then again when she calls him to pick her up from this party. And when I say I have never felt seething disappointment of a character to the degree I felt for Ted in this moment, I mean, honestly he was a slice of realism. Ted was not a hero, he was a villain of sorts and it crushed me. To see the dynamic between Valerie and Ted was definitely eye opening to say the least. As young children, our parents are the world in which we lay ground on, whether we announce it or not, we base our opinions, actions, personalities solely around the reflection that of our parents, or rather the lack there are in some cases. They are meant to be our guides in many ways and in Valerie’s case, her world shatters completely when she realizes her father is nothing but useless in her world, finally realizing that Ted was on this ‘Hate List’ and he knew, it just put so much into perspective of the home life between this dynamic. And although this seems as though I hated Ted myself as the reader, but I liked him a great deal, I liked that his character was a villain because his selfishness made the realization that there are many cruel and disrespectful parents in the world. 

Another situation, where adults took a different piece of me that both made me smile with happiness and cry from the seer anger I felt. The principle and Valerie’s psychiatrist. I won’t go into huge details, mostly because I ramble, but the lunchroom scene where the principle singles out Valerie, again I cannot entirely fault him considering the situation, however it was the treatment I felt regardless of this case she did not deserved to be shunned. Something I personally learned, teachers are just as guilty of bullying and social politics as the teenagers and this moment was absolutely prime example. Though on the other angle there is always at least one person who changes that perspective and shows you, or in this case shows Valerie that she is not a cruel person, worthy of love and life, her psychiatrist. Having him I think was her savior in the world honestly. Parents and other teachers turned on her, her friends kicked her to the curb – Valerie was in a world of herself and where she thought she was alone without Nick, she found she was not.

At Garvin High we were dealt a hard dose of reality this year. People hate. That’s our reality. People hate and are hated and carry grudges and want punishments … I don’t know if it’s possible to take hate away from people. Not even people like us, who’ve seen firsthand what hate can do. We’re all hurting. We’re all going to be hurting for a long time. And we, probably more than anyone else out there, will be searching for a new reality every day. A better one … But in order to change reality you have to be willing to listen and to learn. And to hear. To actually hear.

Bottom line, just a gutting novel, it was beyond powerful and still just as phenomenal as I had hoped. This is simply one novel that spoke massive volumes to me, once I got started I could not stop, never once did I not feel some type of emotion. Near the end Brown said it best at the end – Valerie is so many things, as a reader we learned her flaws and her beauties as a hero, villain, victim, perpetrator, and especially human. And she was this, it was beautiful and Hate List absolutely shattered my emotional walls, it was perfection. 




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