Hate List by Jennifer Brown is yet another book I bought because I loved the cover. I almost didn’t, because I don’t like books about school shootings. So often they’re written from the point of view of the shooter or with excerpts from the shooters, and I just…I can’t get behind that for any reason. A personal flaw, I know.
What makes Hate List so interesting is that it isn’t about a shooter, but it’s also not about a “victim.” Yes, Valerie Leftman is a victim in the traditional sense. She was one of the students in the school when a senior named Nick opened fire; in fact, she took a bullet to her leg. But Valerie Leftman isn’t just any student at the high school – she’s the shooter’s girlfriend. More importantly, she is the co-author of the Hate List, a notebook she shared with Nick.
The Hate List is exactly what it sounds like: a list of all the things and people Nick and Valerie hate and why. Teachers, students, classes, everyday people. Everything they hate they write down in this notebook. Unfortunately for Valerie, that notebook is a huge part of the police investigation into the shooting because it ended up being a sort of kill-list for Nick. But Valeria had no idea he was going to do it. Sometimes she still can’t believe he actually did.
What I loved about Hate List was the way Valerie’s grief was illustrated. I could see it in everything she did and every place she was. The way she sat, the clothes she wore, the things she said, the way she kept her room…all of it added up to a very confused, very scared, and very depressed protagonist. I could feel her suffering, and I could feel her guilt about that suffering.
Because of this grief, Valerie isn’t always likable. I found myself getting annoyed at her selfishness and her moping, and that really worked. Too often, novels about grief are saccharine and Nicholas Sparks levels of beautiful sadness. But grief doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes it’s ugly and sucks people down into that ugliness.
Valerie’s story is so interesting because she knows that the boy who shot everyone in their school isn’t just that. He’s something else too, someone she loved. The point isn’t that Nick was just misunderstood and he was mistreated and teased and that’s why he shot a bunch of his classmates. The book isn’t a lesson in the idea that school shooters should be pitied and that kids should all try to get along and be nice to everyone. The book is about one girl’s grief and her realization that sometimes you don’t know someone as well as you think, and that sometimes people can do things you could never have imagined them doing. It’s about how you can see someone in a way no one else can. It’s about…it’s about so much I just can’t list it all.
Hate List was powerful. It stayed with me for a few days. Hell, it stayed with me for a few months since I’m just now writing this review. Don’t let the school shooting plot distract you from this novel’s powerful message of grief and hope and growth. This book goes down as one of my favorite YA books, and one that I highly recommend.