Review: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Review: Hate List by Jennifer BrownHate List by Jennifer Brown
on September 1, 2009
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 405
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

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.

One of my goals in freeing up some time in my reading schedule is to do more readalongs with my blogger friends, because it’s REALLY nice to be able to discuss books I’ve just read and actually still remember with people. So, anyway, Jamie (The Perpetual Page-Turner) and I agreed to read Hate List, which we both owned and had totally failed to read it. Jamie read it right on schedule and I…did not, sad to say. I overestimated how far along I was in my pile. However, I finally got to Hate List and it was good in a heart- and trope-stabbity way.

Obviously a book about school shootings isn’t going to be exactly a fluff read, but, by my standards at least, Brown’s novel isn’t completely depressing either. One thing that helps a lot is the setting. I’ve read at least one novel with a school shooting and I know several more exist, but Hate List focuses on the aftermath, which I think is an excellent authorial decision. As a culture, I think we have a rubbernecking sort of fascination with tragic events, but a tendency not to think about the long-term effects of things. Yes, the school shooting was horrible and sad and all sorts of other bad things, but what happened next is a really important question. All of the people involved have to live with that and how are they going to do that?

The choice of narrator for Hate List is also rather inspired. Val is both victim and possibly perpetrator in the shooting, and, with her as the MC, Brown can weigh the pain of both. For those who don’t know or who need a refresher, Val’s boyfriend of three years, Nick, was the shooter. Though Val didn’t know he was going to do it, she feels responsible, both because the hate list was her idea and because she feels like she should have known. Her mood constantly shifts from guilt, for what she feels she helped cause, to hate, at the way everyone treats her even though she didn’t kill anyone. Her emotions are complex and believable.

What I liked best about Hate List was actually the relationship between Val and Dr. Hieler, her psychiatrist. So often in YA, there’s a subtle or overt mistrust of therapy, and Hate List‘s portrayal is incredibly positive. Dr. Hieler’s great at what he does and very much not a stereotypical therapist. He’s funny, talkative and supportive. He doesn’t push her to talk about the dark stuff and instead serves as a safe, non-judgmental space, which is so much what she needs. Dr. Hieler helps her recover more than anything else and I think that’s wonderful.

Also stellar is the friendship that evolves between Jessica and Val. In most YA novels, the social hierarchy consists of gorgeous, popular bitches who are evil. That’s who Jessica was to Val and Nick, which is why she ended up in the hate list. During the shooting though, Val saves Jessica’s life, taking a bullet herself, and Jessica proves her only friend when Val returns to school. Jessica turns out to be this incredibly kind, thoughtful person. Val’s friendship with Jessica helps Val realize how shallow most of the judgments in the hate list were.

Hate List does a really good job of weighing the subject matter without being preachy or judgmental. The victims aren’t held up as perfect innocents and Nick isn’t shown as the devil incarnate. The overall message is obviously one of friendship and love, but this isn’t done at the expense of reality. For example, I liked the inclusion of Val’s parents’ mistrust of her. They both say some pretty terrible things to her, but they’re also somewhat caring parents. On a side note, I like the positive arc given to her parents’ separation and new relationships.

On the whole, I didn’t emotionally connect with Hate List quite enough to bump this book into the range of absolutely loving it, but I do think it did a nigh perfect job with the subject matter. Also, I teared up a bit during that last scene, so, you know, good job, Ms. Brown.

Jennifer Brown’s Hate List is an excellent contemporary novel that takes a thoughtful and clever look at the powerful subject of school shootings. Hate List is markedly free of the most common YA tropes and is one of those rare YA novels without romance.

Favorite Quote:

I saw everyone, a shifting sea of discomfort and sadness, each person carrying his own pain, each telling her own stories, no story more or less tragic or important than any other.

Tl;dr – Book in a GIFfy:

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2 responses to “Review: Hate List by Jennifer Brown”

  1. Wonderful review for this book Christina! I love Jennifer Brown’s work and Hate List is no exception. I love how she always delivers a new perspective on such a tough issue. I appreciated the complexity of having Val as the narrator and the focus on the aftermath of the shooting. I do think her dad’s Dad’s reaction was a little TOO much and made me mad, but I understand that parents would be in a difficult position too. Anyway, as I said, I loved this one!
    Nicole @ The Quiet COncert recently posted…The Treatment (The Program #2) by Suzanne YoungMy Profile

  2. […] victim to the “hype monster” (I feel ya, Cristina! It happens!) Christina reviewed Hate List by Jennifer Brown — an older title, but worth checking […]

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