Title: Hate List
Author: Jennifer Brown
Rating: 4 / 5
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.
I must admit, I had a hard time with this book at first. It was kind of slow-going, especially since recently I’ve been reading plot-driven books, and this definitely is not one of them. Once I got into the rhythm of reading a book that was more about character, it became an easy read and I read it in just a few hours.
Hate List is not an easy read. It’s not really a book you walk into with expectations of a light and fluffy read. This is definitely not that, either. A lot of my notes are angry caps-locked fun. I got angry at Val a lot–mostly because she was blind to a lot of what was going on around her, especially before the shooting. For example, within the first fifty pages, Val flashes back to a conversation she had with Nick regarding suicide. She likened his thought to Thelma and Louise, an infamous movie about two female criminals who end their own lives by driving off a cliff. Nick disagrees and likens it more to Romeo and Juliet. My angry caps-lock note for this exchange says, “Are you dumb or just really dense?”
Actually, what disturbed me more than anything about that exchange was that Nick thought of the notion of suicide as romantic. I think he was mis-reading Shakespeare the whole time, if he thought Romeo and Juliet was a romance.
At another point, Val reflects on how she started the Hate List. And I got mad at her again. Truthfully, Val reacted how a lot of teens react to having a really bad day–she blames everyone else. The more I thought about it as I read, the more I realized that this book is more truthful in terms of teenage reactions than a lot of the teen books I’ve read lately.
And then there were her parents, who decided that not only could they not trust their daughter anymore, they also didn’t like her anymore. There was more guilt-laying and hate-spewing from them than from Val’s peers at school. As a mother myself, I wanted to revoke Jenny Leftman’s mother card. She didn’t deserve to be a mother. Especially not when, instead of feeling relieved that her daughter didn’t do it, she continues to condemn Val when she’s found innocent.
“Are you joining up with them so you can finish the job that Nick started?” (p. 223)
This? This made me sick.
In contrast, Nick’s mother, who we never really meet, gets full stars from me. Despite her son having caused this tragedy, she loved him no matter what. She has “beloved son” engraved on his tombstone. Nothing else. Just that. And Val thinks she can hear what his mother was trying to say to him:
“You were beloved, son. You were my beloved. Even after all this, I still remember the beloved you. I can’t forget.” (p. 345)
I hated Val’s peers, to a certain point, but at the same time I could certainly understand their anger and hatred towards Val, who helped create a list that got several of them killed. They didn’t know why they were on that list. Truthfully, some of them probably deserved to be ratted out as the bullies they were, but some of them were just sitting at the wrong lunch table, or happened to be passing by at the wrong time. But no one deserved to die like that.
The principal of the school drove me nuts. In an effort to save his own ass, he decided it was okay to continue pressuring and bullying his own students. I really wanted to slap him at certain points, especially when it seemed like he was singling out Val, determining that she was just as guilty as Nick (just like her parents do), when it’s not really his place to determine guilt or innocence and I really just wanted him to shut up and do his job and stop lying to the press about it.
The only thing I felt was missing was Val coming to the realization that Nick would have done this whether she had created the list or not. I wanted desperately for her to realize this. Bullied kids don’t let go; they create a list in their head of every minor detail of every encounter with bullies. They remember. Nick didn’t need her list; he used it to get revenge for her, when it really wasn’t what she wanted. A little bullying back, some choice words placed for her, sure, but the end result was definitely not what she wanted. I think Val could have used a little closure on this note for herself, but maybe in the future she’ll come to realize it on her own.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. And, seriously, read it. Read it and enjoy it and love it. Not because I told you to, but because it’s a book that should be read a lot. It really should.