Jennifer Brown has written a powerful, intense, and important novel with Hate List (Little, Brown, and Company 2009). I had to read this in small doses to give myself time to think. Even now that I’m done I find my thoughts returning to Valerie and all she went through. I appreciate that Jennifer Brown takes a challening topic–school violence–and refuses to give easy answers. There are no easy bad guys to blame in this book. Neither are their any completely good guys. All the characters struggle to make sense of the senseless violence and the role they played.
Valerie is dreading returning to school to finish her senior year. She’s not sure if she is a hero or a criminal, and she sure doesn’t know which her classmates will treat her as. Five months earlier, her boyfriend Nick brought a gun to school and started shooting students. Valerie jumped in front of him to stop him and was shot. She also helped him write the Hate List–a list of all the people who bullied them day after day, a list Nick used to choose his targets. Who is to blame for the shocking violence? Who confront the truth of how things really are as the community tries to pick up the pieces?
There are no easy answers given in The Hate List. Valerie is plagued by guilt. Could she have done anything to stop Nick? But she also refuses to see Nick as the monster portrayed in the media. She remembers the good times they had together and the pain they both suffered from bullies in the school. One of those bullies now reaches out to befriend Valerie. Throughout her senior year–and in remembering the past–Valerie struggles to see what is really there, and she learns that none of us fit into neat boxes or labels.