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Choosing Hope: Moving Forward from Life's Darkest Hours

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"[S]tirring...a bold, inspiring and ultimately hopeful book." 
--Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post and author of the New York Times bestseller Thrive

Kaitlin Roig-Debellis is the first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School who saved her entire class of fifteen six- and-seven-year-olds from the tragic events that took place on December 14, 2012, by piling them into a single-occupancy bathroom within her classroom, mere feet from the brutal and indiscriminate massacre taking place outside the door. Since then, despite the unimaginably painful experiences she endured, she has chosen to share her experience with others, in the hope that they too can find light in dark moments.

Choosing Hope is a lot of things. A written witness to a tragedy that will never be forgotten. A gripping firsthand testament to the power of good over the power of destruction. An inspirational memoir by a brave young woman whose story is one of courage, heroism, faith, and resilience. And a celebration of all the people who make the choice to pass along their hope and positivity to young ones—parents, mentors, and especially teachers. There is no moving on, but there is always moving forward. And how we move forward is a choice.

"[M]oving" -Wally Lamb, New York Times bestselling author of We Are Water and She’s Come Undone

"[B]rave" -Karen Armstrong, New York Times bestselling author of Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life and The History of God

 “Although now I have witnessed the worst of mankind, instead of feeling bitter or regretful I have chosen to embrace gratitude. I believe in the power of kindness, the influence of educators and mentors, faith and God, and most of all I believe in humanity. Bad things happen to all of us, things that test us and impact us and change us, but it is not those moments that define us. It is how we choose to react to them that does.”  —Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis

From the Hardcover edition.

Audio CD

First published April 7, 2015

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Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis

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5 stars
298 (34%)
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278 (32%)
3 stars
206 (24%)
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51 (5%)
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23 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 112 reviews
Profile Image for April (Aprilius Maximus).
1,088 reviews6,591 followers
March 21, 2016
I could relate to Kaitlin so much because teaching is also my passion, and this book hit me so hard. A truly moving and personal memoir, I definitely recommend it.

Around the Year in 52 Books Challenge Notes:
- 25. A book whose main character is in a profession that interests you
Profile Image for Lauren B.
4 reviews3 followers
December 23, 2015
I found this story.... Odd. I remember hearing about it on the news and watching in shock at the tragedy that happened in that school. For a young teacher, it must have been a shocking ordeal to have to endure with such young children. What got me is the way she speaks of herself. Throughout she says she's not trying to get herself noticed but instead trying to move forward however, the number of pages I've just read about her talking about how awesome she is... I'm not sure what the purpose 80% of the book was other than just to speak about how much of a great teacher she is. It was a quick read, I had to finish it but I'm not sure I'm inspired or overly interested in what she has to say - more saddened by the fact she's using these terrible circumstances to bring attention to herself. I may have misinterpreted it but you'll have to read it for yourself!
719 reviews7 followers
March 16, 2016
I enjoyed Sue Klebold's audiobook on the aftermath of Columbine (which she wrote after 16 years of rumination and recovery) a couple of weeks ago, and thought this audiobook would compliment that perspective. I was leery at the outset, since it's only been three years since the shootings, and I don't believe the author has the maturity and perspective to write about the events yet.

This is going to sound terribly catty, but the sound of her voice grated on my nerves. The author read the book herself, and she sounded like a valley girl. It really would have been better had she let a pro narrate for her.

She starts off after some inspirational quotes, by saying, "you don't have to listen to section about that day." Are you kidding me? Do you think I picked up an audiobook about the Newtown shooting because I don't want to hear about the Newtown shooting? Then she proceeded to talk about how she met her husband and how he proposed, and I just couldn't take it anymore. I'm not watching an episode of "Say Yes to the Dress," I want to know about how you coped with a horrific tragedy. How much filler until we get to the point of the story? At that point I gave up and moved on. Life's too short, right Kaitlin?

December 15, 2021
I’ve had this book on my shelf for awhile now. I wasn’t ever quite ready to dive into it. Now that I did, I was very moved, and also impressed. I enjoyed the parts about Kaitlin’s childhood, and laughed out loud when she described “What First Grade Is”, because her observations were so spot-on! (All about routines, asking questions, having no filters, believing your parents and teachers are real-life heroes, etc.) I had fond memories of teaching my own first grade classes upon reading that list!
The description of December 14, 2012, was chilling, and heart-breaking. There would have been more victims had Miss Roig not literally stuffed her students into the bathroom, and if those children had not trusted her when she told them to be be absolutely quiet, and they would be ok.
Her experiences in the days and weeks afterward were difficult to read about. I sympathized so when Kaitlin wanted to just hide from the world for a long while. I cheered when her therapist helped her devise a plan that would help she and her 16 little traumatized survivors feel safe in their new classroom when the new semester started. And my teeth were gritted when I read about the acting principal and the superintendent refusing to implement those plans, and actually requesting Miss Roig to step away from her position and those students because they doubted her “mental stability”!
I was so glad when the program Classes 4 Classes was implemented to help students and teachers realize that instead of focusing on evil, they could work together to change other people’s lives, and make real differences.
I disagree with several book reviewers who gave this a low rating because they felt Kaitlin talked too much about herself and what a wonderful teacher she was. I didn’t feel that way at all. Miss Roig was a life-long lover of children and teaching, and she was doing her job on Dec. 14 as she’d always enjoyed doing. Part of her job was to protect her students, and she did that the only way she could on that morning. As she stated, if she could have turned back the clock to December 13 and had everything as it was before, she would have. Kaitlin explains that she wrote this book because she believed her message of choosing hope through despair could buoy others who feel like giving up on life. I think she has definitely achieved her goal, and I admire her work in continuing to help people learn to help others.

Memorable Quotes:
(Pg. 22)-“I wish I could have frozen that snapshot in time, those precious moments of us, a young teacher and her class of first-graders—little boys and girls whose biggest worries were what their moms had packed for lunch, or what Santa was bringing for Christmas, or when a loose tooth was finally going to come out—that sweet morning time just before a 24-year-old local man, clothed all in black, and carrying a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle, blasted his way into our school and went on a killing spree.”
Epilogue-“The goal is to get every K-8 public school classroom involved in the “Classes 4 Classes” program. What better way to triumph over tragedy and honor those we lost at Sandy Hook than to teach kindness?”
Profile Image for Clare Bird.
489 reviews5 followers
February 28, 2017
Overall I felt like this book was "me, me, me." All about her life and very little to do with the Sandy Hook Shooting.... which is fine, but wasn't what the reader was expecting, in my opinion. It did have a good message, to choose hope.
Profile Image for Alissa.
5 reviews1 follower
January 10, 2018
This book had so much potential but turned out to be filled with (not so) humble bragging about what an amazing person she was. Major disappointment.
Profile Image for John Kaufmann.
616 reviews53 followers
November 12, 2015
I really liked the main part of this book. The author was a first grade teacher who survived the mass-shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School by hiding her entire class in a toilet closet in her classroom. The book provides a very moving description of the experience itself, as well as the shock/PTSD she experienced afterwards. Eventually she came to realize she could let the tragedy crush her, or she could begin to move forward through hope and love - through the power of giving. These sections of the book were very moving.

The first third of the book was background. It was interesting enough reading, and some background is necessary to set the context and give us a glimpse of her character. But I thought it went on too long, almost to the point of quitting the book. But once she got into the tragedy and aftermath, it was hard to put down. It petered out a little at the end as she started talking about the Classes 4 Classes organization she eventually founded for classrooms and teachers around the country to give to other classrooms and teacher. I thought it smacked too much of giving of material things, and of being an exchange where people can list their needs (which smacks of taking, not giving). Overall, though, a very good book.
Profile Image for Lenisa Jones.
145 reviews3 followers
May 9, 2018
One of the scariest things that can ever happen to a teacher happened to her. She saved an entire classroom of students in Sandy Hook that day and I think that makes her a true hero.
Profile Image for Sharon.
210 reviews1 follower
December 7, 2015
It was actually a little boring and repetitive. Not the parts about the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary, but some of the stuff just about her life in general. I tried listening to it on CD and I couldn't get through it. The author read it aloud and she very strangely over enunciated words or certain syllables. It was so odd. So, I read it instead, but other than the sections specifically about the school, I ended up skimming it, because it wasn't that interesting. (Not that anyone would find my life story that riveting either.) As far as the story goes, it's too bad that she was not able to stay with her class after the tragedy. I was unaware of that and of all of the backlash this teacher received, but it seems like a big part of her choosing to write her story is to get her side of it out there and offer a rebuttal to apparently disparaging rumors about her supposedly abandoning her class.
Profile Image for Rissa.
1,380 reviews48 followers
May 31, 2019
Choosing hope
Shows how one day one decision changed everything when the shooter didnt find them hiding in the bathroom. The classroom next to her, adjoining classroom got hit. Thats just terrifying.
Her life was normal and filled with love and happiness then her life was filled with grief and worry and a mess of nerves. She went through something dreadful but after time passed and was given time to grieve she choose to hope in a better future.
Profile Image for Jessica Warren.
82 reviews
January 18, 2019
Overall I’d say the book is fine to good range. The 1st third is her talking about herself (it’s an easy read, but not super engaging part). Also, the entire book has an undercurrent of her just talking about how wonderful she is. She has done great things, but there’s a lack of humility.

The 2nd third she talks about the shooting. This part is really good. How the kids deal with it and in general how to start coping with something so awful.

The third part she loses me. The kids are so important to her, but she lets a fight (I understand her side and think they should have given her what she was asking for) push her out of the classroom. Leaving the classroom kind of takes away her creditably for me. If the kids are as important to you as you say then you would’ve remained in the classroom during this traumatic time no matter what.

Her work outside of the classroom is great, but she left the kids when they still needed her so her work is kind of soured in my opinion.
60 reviews
February 19, 2018
This was anything but inspiring to me, as it was more about how amazing the author is as a person, teacher, girlfriend, wife etc. You'll love the book if you're interested in her life and what a wonderful teacher, hero or daughter she is. I almost gave up when I reached the chapter on how her husband proposed and his love letter to her.I cannot understand a person trying to bring attention to herself given the tragic event and loss. She seemed incredibly arrogant and immature. This book could have been so much better if she had taken the focus off herself and actually focused the book on hope and moving forward as the title suggests.
Profile Image for Kirsti.
2,456 reviews83 followers
October 31, 2015
A very positive book to have come from this tragedy. Kaitlin has a very good voice that translates well to the written word, and I felt really connected to both the story and the author. I first read a book review in one of the trash magazines that my mother in law always buys, and I was intrigued. I found the book to be informative, and yet still emotional. There was no real description of the awful events, at the author's request. Instead, it focuses on the healing and trying to find positive things in life when you think it can't get any worse. Five stars.
Profile Image for Dedra Montgomery.
6 reviews1 follower
July 13, 2017
Was not sure what expect from this book when I started it. I would recommend it to anyone. The author was a first grade teacher at Sandy Hook School the day the tragedy happened. While she does discuss what happened that day, most of the book is about how she was able to come back and make something positive out of her life after being in so much darkness immediately after the shooting. Basically the book is about looking at the positive side of things, no matter what you are going through. This book kept my attention and I finished it in one day.
Profile Image for Laura Parente.
21 reviews
February 28, 2016
I think this is the fastest I have ever read book! The chapter about that fateful day can be hard to read. She even suggests that some may want to skip it. What I thought was so great is her detailing how she came out through the darkness and was able to pick up the pieces of her life, one day at a time.
Profile Image for Crystal.
64 reviews
October 20, 2015
Wonderful book about overcoming the worst and deciding to live life to the fullest.
Profile Image for Nancy.
82 reviews
December 3, 2015
Tragic story....this book would be very meaningful for a fellow teacher to read as they would fully understand the whole student/teacher relationship.
Profile Image for Miceál.
354 reviews65 followers
August 17, 2021
In terms of a memoir, this is solid enough. There's a lot of great insight into the person behind the story, and into the passion of education, and the details and aftermath of what happened. With that alone it would be four stars, so long as you don't go into it expecting any more than what these kinds of memoirs usually deliver. Not to say that's a bad thing, but you know what you're getting. That's all decent, and it's an interesting perspective. I can't say I agree with the running theme of "you choose how to live your life afterwards, and if you don't Choose Hope™ you're basically wallowing in your misery and it becomes your fault", but hey. I'm reading this as a memoir, a story of somebody else's journey and conclusions, and not a self-help manual. I disagree with that sentiment totally, but as I'm not reading the book in search of personal coaching I'm not going to knock stars off for it.

Unfortunately there's a spin on this that I just don't appreciate. I get it'll happen with these things, because at root memoirs like this are written to illicit a specific emotional response from readers, but like... twenty first-graders were gunned down in their classrooms. I really don't see how much thicker the emotional impact of that needs to be laid on. I do wonder if it's just a cultural thing, because everything I've read that's about an American issue and is directed at an American audience is like this -- the language is almost juvenile, especially when talking about children, and relies heavily on emotional epitaphs emphasising how small and cute they are and how the adults are their only hope; there's always a lot of talk about God, and in a lot of cases it seems shoehorned in to the extent that even if I can believe the person does have sincere faith, the talk about God reads in a stilted voice that's clearly edited in or emphasised to further highlight the good vs evil narrative that's threaded through all these things... I don't know. When I can identify the voice of the editor and the needs of the publisher in order to make a good sale through the voice of the person writing the memoir, that's not good. I noticed traces of it here, and while it in itself wasn't as dire as some books I've seen (Not Without My Daughter comes to mind as a particularly bad example of this), combined with the constant advertising for Roig-DeBellis's non-profit and the fact that there really just wasn't enough original content for a book of this length, it did grate a little. While the actual content was good, there wasn't all that much of it between the repetitions of things already said, the advertising, and the paragraph-fluffing.

As with some of the other memoirs I've read on different topics but with similar issues, I can fully believe in the sincerity of the author and in the impact the event has had. I just wish more authors writing memoirs on such things would dig their heels in a little more during the editing process, and stop allowing the complexities of their stories to be cheapened in favour of appealing to raw emotion with no substance.
Profile Image for Ingrid.
99 reviews45 followers
May 13, 2017
This book seriously could have done without the first part. It just talks about her growing up, wanting to be a teacher, getting engaged, blah blah blah.... It came off as being really self-indulgent. Once the story of the shooting came in, the pace really picked up and it got more interesting. My only other complaint of the book was that it often felt cheesy, like every other story of overcoming adversity. If it wasn't about the Sandy Hook shooting, which already interests me, then I wouldn't have read it. Otherwise, in the parts of the book that told the story itself rather than just the lessons she learned, it was pretty interesting getting a "behind the scenes" look at the tragedy. I also had no idea of her charity or backlash until reading this. But speaking of the backlash, is it wrong that I agree with some of what her opposers at the school believed? She wanted to implement more security in her classroom to put the students minds at ease; wouldn't that ultimately have the opposite effect because it reinforces that danger could be near? Maybe she should have tried to see the other perspective.
Profile Image for Jay.
1,260 reviews14 followers
December 29, 2018
This book provides an amazing and optimistic message: choose to do your best with any situation. That message comes through very clearly and is especially strong coming from a brutal school shooting survivor.

The language and sentiments are frequently trite, though. I expect that if I were to see a verbal presentation, I would be much more impressed. The spoken language resonates much more easily on the emotions, and this book really targets an emotional response. I just wish the writing itself wasn't so full of thoughts I have had before.

The strongest sections, I thought, were the ones about the disagreements with the school and the moments in the first days after the attack.

The first chapters are so saccharine sweet I considered quitting the book then. I'm a deep optimist myself, but the opening chapters didn't grab me at all.

I'm so glad that she has been able to take a horrific experience and turn it for good. I'm glad I read this book and some of the ideas will stay with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Bean Pontes.
7 reviews1 follower
August 17, 2017
The overarching themes of hope, kindness and importance of social emotional learning were the main take aways for me. Especially the notion that "action is healing." I too find this to be true. The pain doesn't go away following loss, tragedy, etc., but channeling the pain into positive action can be liberating.

My heart aches for the community of Newtown and the families affected by this horrific event. I'm disheartened by certain reviews implying the author is searching for fame. No one would choose to have endured what this heroic woman has endured just to get their 15 minutes of fame. She saved the lives of her students and I am grateful for her quick action during an absolute nightmare that anyone working in a school fears. I read this book in preparation for my first year as a school psychologist and definitely found it meaningful.
July 15, 2018
Having meet Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis in person, I could see and hear the emotional impact of the horrific event she survived. I read the entire book in one weekend so there was a little repetition at the end of the book that I noticed. I loved the quotes that opened each chapter. I applaud the courage, and fortitude it took for this young woman to put her life on the line for her students. More importantly, the fight back to happiness, love, and family was inspiring. I would recommend this to anyone dealing with a life changing situation. So much of what Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis wrote about reminded me of my grief over the loss of my sister the first year without her. Choosing Hope is not only a book title, it is a philosophy.
Profile Image for Nada Loughead.
495 reviews8 followers
August 6, 2017
Inspirational - from a horrific tragedy comes hope and motivation - amazing. That being said, I found the focus was on how wonderful her childhood was, how positive she is and skimming over the darkest times as if that was a betrayal of who she should be. I would hate to think what her conversation would be like with someone with PTSD - something I'm surprised she doesn't have. But still...inspirational. http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/1...
Profile Image for Michelle Tejada.
113 reviews
September 28, 2018
While this book describes the author's experience at Sandy Hook, the emphasis was on her recovery from the trauma. While there are two sides to every story, I was disappointed to learn of the administration's lack of action on her ideas for safety in the new classroom. A ladder would have been beneficial not only for an intruder, but also for a fire. Ms. Roig-DeBellis is the type of teacher I would have wanted my children to have. I am saddened that she left the classroom.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
May 12, 2019
A Must Read

2014 I was working in a childcare with a co-op in high school as a senior. In class and in our staff meeting in December we talked about what to do in a shooting. I read this in a single sitting. I teared up a lot while reading this imaging my two and half and three year olds in that situation or going to elementary school facing fear of those events. It's heartbreaking.
Profile Image for Kate Kaput.
Author 2 books48 followers
December 1, 2020
This memoir was written by a former first-grade teacher in Newtown, CT who made global headlines when she hid 15 students in an impossibly tiny bathroom while a gunman murdered her colleagues & their classmates in the classroom next door. Driven by a passion for education & a love of children, the relentlessly positive Roig-Debellis is now a public speaker & founder of the nonprofit movement Classes 4 Classes. This isn't the best-written book, but it's certainly a moving & important one.
Profile Image for Valerie Ratcliff.
69 reviews1 follower
May 7, 2021
Kaitlin was incredibly brave in a way I hope I never have to be. Her story is inspiring. However, from a strictly literary perspective it is the only standout thing that occurred to her in her otherwise happy, privileged life. The story is rather dull and repetitive with a lot of information about how she met her husband, how great her parents were. Which is GREAT but not that interesting if she is not your friend.
Profile Image for Alexandra Rizzuto.
113 reviews2 followers
May 16, 2021
Her story of Sandy Hook, especially the details in the bathroom, were terrifying and made me turn pages quickly. After what she and her students went through it’s admirable for her to pursue hope and positivity. However, there was a lot of repetition in this book. I can’t imagine being in the public eye but I wish she didn’t feel that she had to justify her actions to everyone and include pages of outside affirmation.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 112 reviews

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