Review Detail4.7 2
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.
What Left Me Wanting More:
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.