‘Hate List’ by Jennifer Brown

Every day at lunch, Mrs Tate would grill me about my future plans.

“Valerie, it’s still not too late to grab a scholarship to one of the community colleges,” she’d say, looking pained.

I’d shake my head. “No.”

“What are you going to do?” she’d asked me one day as we ate lunch together.

I’d considered this, believe me. What would I do once graduation was over? Where would I go? How would I live? Would I stay at home and wait for Mom and Mel to possibly get married? Would I move in with Dad and Briley and Frankie and try to repair the relationship that I was pretty sure Dad didn’t want anyway? Would I move out and get a job? Get a roommate? Fall in love?

“Recover,” I’d said. And I’d meant it. I needed some time to simply recover. I’d consider my future later, when Garvin High had slipped off me like a heavy coat in a hot room and I’d begun to forget the faces of my classmates. Of Troy. Of Nick. When I’d begun to forget the smell of gunpowder and blood. If I ever could.

That excerpt is the best I found that can convey what the gist of Hate List (by Jennifer Brown) is about.

Valerie Leftman is left bewildered, betrayed and vilified after her boyfriend goes on a shooting rampage and kills people off their Hate List. She struggles to remember the Nick she fell in love with and convince herself that she is not guilty, even though she played a part in coming up with the seemingly-innocuous Hate List. Some label her a hero for stopping Nick (and earning a gunshot wound to her thigh as a result, but saving Jessica Campbell, Queen Bitch, as well). Some think she ought to kill herself like Nick did. With her parents’ deteriorating marriage to deal with apart from all that, Valerie is left struggling to understand what she stands for and who she really is and can become.

While the plot might portend a predictable narration (how Valerie, deals with the aftermath of her boyfriend’s shooting of the school, and learns to move on with her life and understand that it isn’t her fault), Brown’s firm grasp of the narrator’s voice was what made me read on. And the more I read, the more I empathised with the protagonist. Brown considered every aspect of the shooting, from the parents to the girlfriend to the survivors. What I enjoy most, though, are the conversations Valerie has with her therapist. Brown has made her protagonist very introspective. You can tell the author herself thought through every facet of the shooting and its ramifications. It’s not just some superficial oh-woe-is-me-my-boyfriend-went-nuts-and-I-don’t-know-what-to-do-anymore narration. Brown draws out the quiet tensions and shifting dynamics between characters throughout the story, without dragging its pace. This is, in my opinion, very skilful narration and grasp of the character’s voice.

Hate List is Brown’s debut novel and already it has won the Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up Award, and is nominated for the 2011 New Hampshire Flume Award.

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