My Rating: 5 stars
Hate List deals with the aftermath of a school shooting told from the point of view of Valerie, the shooter’s girlfriend. This is, of course, a heavy topic, and it comes with trigger warnings for violence and suicide. There are scenes of the shooting. This could be very upsetting for some readers, so please be aware of this if you pick up the book. That being said, I think Brown handles the subject matter incredibly well. She doesn’t shy away from the disturbing images and trauma. However, she also doesn’t revel in the violence the way some writers do. There is a very careful balance that makes it realistic and honest while not veering into exploitative.
Valerie is a sympathetic and relatable narrator. She is a mess of anger, sadness, and guilt, and my heart absolutely broke for her. My favorite thing about all of Brown’s characters is that none of them are fully good or fully bad. They’re complex. They’re human. Though she’s sympathetic, Valerie isn’t always exactly likable; she’s angry and sometimes hateful. But who in this world hasn’t been, especially as a teenager? Nick, the shooter, is neither a complete monster nor a “misunderstood bad boy love interest.” Through Valerie’s narration, we see everything she loves about him, but we also see the anger that consumes him and drives him to kill people. It’s difficult to watch. In some ways, it would perhaps be easier if he were a two dimensional “bad guy.” But having him be a full person with good points as well as bad feels like a far truer portrayal.
Though it was published in 2009, this book continues to be relevant now in 2020. At least in the USA, which is where I live, school shootings continue to be a problem. On one hand, it’s rather depressing to see that this is still such an issue over a decade later. However, Brown’s message is ultimately one of hope. We are left with hope that people can heal and change. It also forces the reader to think about what we can do to prevent situations like this. How can we be kinder to people? How can we offer support to those who are struggling? How can we minimize the hate in our world?
Overall, this is an incredibly powerful book and it’s one I think everyone should read if they can. The subject matter makes it difficult to read at times, but to me it was ultimately worth it.