Author: Jennifer Brown (Twitter)
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Publish Date: October 5, 2010
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Source: Personal Copy
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.
Life as Val knew it ended in an explosion of gunfire...gunfire unleashed by her boyfriend, Nick. The two spent their high school lives together as self-professed outcasts, enduring bullying and relentless teasing and, together, developed a "hate list" which named those who plagued their daily lives. Val meant it. She hated these people. She didn't know that Nick hated these people enough to kill them all. Now, Val and the rest of Garvin High are still trying to come to terms with the heinous crime that rocked their town, their school and their lives. But first, Val needs to come to terms with her own part in it and heal, so that she can actually move forward.
For those of you who regularly follow my blog, you know that I'm a huge fan of issue-based contemporary novels. I believe that, when done well, these books have an enormous impact and the ability to make you think, feel and, in some cases, change. Hate List is the epitome of why I love issue books. Dark and brooding, it bores into the very roots of evil, bringing them to the surface and displaying our own darkest urges for all to see. Jennifer Brown has written a novel which encourages readers to feel and to embrace our own emotions so that, along with the characters of this book, we can heal. Raw, challenging and incredibly thought-provoking, Hate List is a book that I'm certain will stay with me for a very long time.
I've previously read Bitter End by Ms. Brown, so I knew that I was going to get quality storytelling with Hate List, but I can honestly say that I didn't know just how much I was going to feel for these characters. From the start, Val keeps us at arm's length. She's angry, she's hurt and she's extremely confused, and the beauty of the novel is that we, as readers, feel and live those exact same emotions as the story starts to unravel and we understand the events of that day. I though that Val would be a more challenging character to access because of the walls she'd put up, but I was pleased to find that, little by little, she starts to expose the vulnerable core that she's hidden for so long. As she does so, we get the chance to see this pain and this inability to come to terms with what Nick has done. Nick, in large part, I felt was almost an afterthought until the very end. We see his actions and we recognize just how irreparably he's damaged this school, this town and definitely his girlfriend. However, we don't really get to see him until the very end. I was quite certain this was a weakness until the final scene, in which I understood the true purpose of Nick's role in Hate List. The secondary characters are phenomenal in this book. Jessica, the epitome of the popular girl, transforms immeasurably through this novel and, in doing so, we watch as her interactions with Val transform, as well. I felt such distress for Ginny through the novel, and I felt such incredible anger towards Val's father, seeing his anger as rooted in selfishness, though I began to realize that it was actually masking his own discontent and confusion. Hate List ripped my heart out numerous times, but finally let all its emotion bleed onto the last few pages as we watch this town, this school and this girl do their very best to rise from the ashes.
I can't say enough good things about Hate List. If you want a book that will make you truly feel something, this is the book for you. Prepare...you'll need a box of tissues. I give this book a 5 out of 5, without question, and I highly recommend it to all fans of YA and upper YA, especially those who enjoy contemporary fiction and issue books.