So - five months ago Valerie’s boyfriend Nick opened fire on the school cafeteria. He shot her when she tried to stop him, and she inadvertently saved the life of a classmate. Five months on and the investigation has revealed numerous incriminating emails between Valerie and Nick as well as the Hate List - a book containing all the names of the people Valerie and Nick wanted dead.
Or people they *said* they wanted dead. Because while Valerie hated the people who taunted and bullied her and Nick, Valerie had nothing to do with Nick’s decision to massacre their classmates.
The story jumps between the day of the shooting and a few months later when the school and town are trying to come to terms with what’s happened. As you can probably imagine, Valerie is not flavour of the month with ... well, with anyone. They all see her as a co-conspirator who has somehow managed to evade death or arrest.
This was a really engaging read and I ploughed through it in just over a day. Valerie was a very relatable MC and struck an amazing balance between hating what Nick did and still loving the boyfriend he used to be, between being a victim of bullying, but also being a survivor and not letting people walk all over her.
Nick, too, was a mixture of absolute knob and a victim. Obviously taking a gun to school is not the way to solve your problems, but this book is as much of a warning about the effects of bullying as it is an argument for gun control. Nick had been bullied for years. He had also smoked pot and had got caught up with a really unsavoury character who, and it’s implied more than expressed, encouraged him to commit the shooting.
Plus, the students at their high school just sound like a bunch of evil hyenas. Honestly, there were times I thought, ‘Bloody hell. I’m surprised he left it this long before shooting them.’ Some of the things they did to Valerie and Nick were just evil.
The reason I didn’t give this book five stars is because it just didn’t feel - I’m kind of struggling for the right word here, and I think the word I’m going to go with is - powerful enough for me. I didn’t feel like people were horrified enough that a school shooting had taken place. They were sad and everything, sure, but it seemed like everyone treated the tragedy with a kind of resigned inevitability. Like, ‘Oh God, another high school shooting has happened. That’s terrible.’
I don’t think it’s the writing, or the author being afraid of piling on the tension - I think it’s actually a cultural thing. Maybe it’s because I’m British and our gun culture is totally different to that in America. The last school shooting in Britain was Dunblane, twenty years ago this year, and after Dunblane happened parliament passed a law banning all handguns. If a school shooting happened again, it would top the news headlines for weeks. It would just be ... massive. The school shooting in Hate List didn’t feel as massive as I’d have expected it to be.
(By the way, this isn’t me trying to sell Britain as some kind of utopia. God knows there are plenty of ways we’re managing to screw our country up, but guns thankfully isn’t one of them.)
So yeah, I guess I was expecting a read that would totally tilt my world off its axis, and while Hate List is very powerful it didn’t leave me feeling like I’d gone through the emotional wringer. Still a very good read, though, and an important one too.