Chris's Reviews > Hate List

Hate List by Jennifer Brown
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's review
Jan 03, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: dark, life, not-graphic, voice, ya

Nick had always been obsessed with death. It wasn't any big deal, you know? Some people were obsessed with video games. Some people thought about nothing but sports. Some guys were totally into military stuff. Nick liked death. From day one when he was sprawled across his bed talking about how Hamlet should have killed Claudius when he had the chance, Nick had talked about death.

But they were stories, that's all. He told stories about death. He recounted movies, books, all with tragic and meaningful death scenes. He talked about news reports and crime reports. It was just his thing. And I adopted his language; I told stories, too. It was no big deal. Really I didn't even notice I'd started doing it. It felt like fiction, all of it. Shakespeare told stories of death. Poe told stories of death. Stephen flipping King told stories of death, and none of it meant a thing.

So I hadn't even noticed when the talk increased. Hadn't noticed when it got personal. Hadn't realized that Nick's stories had become tales of suicide. Of homicide. And mine had, too. Only, as far as I knew, we were still telling fiction.

The problem is, Nick wasn't telling fiction. One May morning their junior year of high school, Nick pulled out a gun in the commons before school and started shooting people on his and Valerie's "Hate List." People Valerie had said she wanted dead, that deserved to die in gruesome ways. The Hate List notebook and countless emails and texts prove it. Once Valerie realized what he was doing she jumped in front of Nick hoping to stop him, getting shot herself and leading to his immediate suicide. Now she has to deal with the aftermath.

The media and most of the community and possibly even her family have already judged her guilty, if not of being in on Nick's plans of at least encouraging them. The police might decide the same. And how could she not have seen it--was she stupid? Nick was the one person in the world with whom she shared a special connection, and they understood each other in ways no one else did--didn't they? Apparently not. Were people right, was it her fault all of those people died? She knows that's not true, so why can't she stop feeling guilty and forgive herself? And why can't she stop remembering Nick as the wonderful guy she loved even though she knows the monstrous things he's done?

These questions barely scratch the surface of the turmoil Valerie has to deal with as she attempts to move on with life and even heal, if that's possible. Through Valerie, Brown is able to both articulate and depict one of the most realistic, complete examinations of the complex, contradictory nature of emotional tumult I've read. And even though I've only mentioned Valerie in this review, Brown does the same with Valerie's family, classmates, and community. The emotional realism is amazingly nuanced, as well as engaging, in this story about one of the most difficult situations imaginable.

But none of those feelings seemed to really match up, like when you're putting together a puzzle and two pieces almost - maddeningly, just almost - fit. You could shove the pieces together and force them to fit, but even after they're successfully stuck together they still don't fit exactly, don't look quite right. That's how my brain felt. Like I was shoving odd puzzle pieces together.
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