Friday, September 4, 2009

The Hate List, Jennifer Brown

Having read Dave Cullen's creepily gripping, Columbine, earlier this summer I was interested in picking up The Hate List when I realized it was about the aftermath of a school shooting. I have mixed feelings about this book.

On one side I couldn't stop reading and I stayed up late to finish it in one sitting. I was completely hooked on the story and believed in Valerie, the main character and girlfriend of the shooter. But on the other side (and I really wish there was a less pretentious way to say this...) it just seemed to lack the gravitas due to the subject matter. I didn't even come close to tearing up which is very unusual for me. It really doesn't take much to get me bawling my eyes out and even though I really wanted to keep reading this book I wasn't emotionally invested at all.

Some of the conversations felt forced and after-school specialish to me. But I do think that Jennifer Brown did an excellent job convincing the reader that Valerie could be completely wrapped up in her relationship with Nick and not see any of the warning signs of what was to come. Why would she ever have believed he was serious because clearly she wasn't serious about the things she said. The moments in the story with Valerie reflecting back on their emails and conversations, looking at them with the benefit of hindsight, were chilling. It was spot on: a mixture of "duh, how could I have missed this" and "but that can't be true; that's not the person he was, we were joking".

I think my more sedate reaction to this book comes in large part from being immersed in Dave Cullen's book. That reading experience had me crying, awake at night thinking about it, having to stop reading for a few days because I was getting too disturbed, then unable to stop reading.... it was consuming and in comparison anything dealing with school shootings would somehow seem less than.

One thing I did find myself thinking a lot about was Valerie's excellent therapist in the book, Dr. Hieler. I'm always fascinated by depictions of therapy in books and movies. So much of it is so sensationalistic and clearly a contrived plot device. Jennifer Brown does a great job with Dr. Hieler. He is caring and realistic. I loved how Valerie imagined he must have a perfect, 1950's style home life and then got to see reality at the graduation. It reminded me of the therapy scences in Francine Prose's Touch and the gold medal winner of books with therapists, Ordinary People.

Ordinary People had me down memory lane, remembering Mr. Peters, my independent study advisor back when I was 16. He was such a sweet old man and I think I probably learned more about literature from him in those few months than I did in my entire public school career (not so much with math but that wasn't so much of a change since I learned no math in public school either). He introduced me to Ordinary People and told me that he thought it had the most realistic depiction of a therapist that he had ever read. Looking back eleven years later, I realize why he picked that book for me at the time. I think I was pretty oblivious to seeing the comparisons to what was going on my own life. So now I think it's time to give it a rereading. Thanks Mr. Peters and thank you to Jennifer Brown for triggering the memory.

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