Hate List: A Novel
Little, Brown Young Readers (2009)
Reviewed by Maggie Desmond-O’Brien (age 14) for Reader Views (10/09)
“After I ignored the third snooze alarm, my mom started pounding on my door, trying to get me out of bed. Just like any other morning. Only this morning wasn’t just any other morning. This morning I was supposed to pick myself up and get on with my life.”
For Valerie Leftman, that life has become a nightmare she isn’t sure she wants to live. Because five months ago, her boyfriend Nick Levil opened fire in their school cafeteria—and, through their list of things she and Nick hated, a list of everything and anything that they believed kept them down, Valerie inadvertently helped him pick his targets. After accidentally saving the life of one of her chief tormentors and getting shot in the process, Valerie must now settle scores with the classmates who still blame her and the classmates who forgive her—and it quickly becomes clear that the latter are far more difficult to deal with. Haunted by her own guilt, broken friendships, a dysfunctional family, and by the boyfriend she’s still in love with, Valerie must come to terms with tragedies large and small and rediscover a self that she never knew she had.
First and foremost, this book made me cry. Not once, not twice, but three separate times. And to be honest, at the time I wasn’t really sure why. A novel about a school shooting is inherently tragic, but “Hate List” seemed to take it to the next level of pain. Despite hokey “excerpts” from the local paper and a slightly detached feel, it hits home in a way that few of the angsty teen novels of this year have done. I came to realize as I stared at the summary on the back of my ARC that the reason Valerie’s story is so terrible is because it is, in a way, everyone’s story.
In this book, Jennifer Brown has painted the teen experience in broad yet poignant strokes that anyone can relate to: The fuzzy line between right and wrong, the way that people can change when you least expect it, and the pain of discovering that you don’t even know yourself, much less those you thought were closest to you. Her characters are well-drawn and believable, though Valerie’s narrative voice can occasionally feel a little whiny, and her character development is flawless. Unfortunately at times she does seem to take it a step too far into realism—in a novel, a little streamlining is usually a good thing, and there’s none of that here—but in a way it is cathartic to read something so heartbreakingly honest in this age of Hollywood glitz, broodingly handsome vampires and VMA awards drama.
So in the end, “Hate List” will probably make you cry. It might even make you cry more than once. And when you’re finished I’m sure you’ll agree with me that in this debut novel Jennifer Brown has propelled herself into the uppermost tier of young adult authors to watch. I want more!