Hate List, by Jennifer Brown
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
We all got to be winners sometimes. But what he didn’t understand was that we all had to be losers, too. Because you can’t have one without the other.
Jennifer Brown’s Torn Away was the very first book that I ever reviewed on The Grumpy Librarian. It’s almost kind of surreal that, about a year after this blog began, I’m reviewing another one of her books.
The topic of school shootings is a very sensitive one. It’s multi-layered and complex. You look at the situation, and at face value, you see the victims; you dig further, and you consider the shooter’s mental state, what put them in that position in the first place. This makes both parties simultaneously innocent and guilty, and when people are murdered, everybody wants it to be black and white. What Jennifer Brown shows in Hate List is that it isn’t. It’s so multi-colored that you can’t tell where one fades into another.
In the end, Nick – the shooter – is a monster and a victim. He is his own victim; he destroyed himself. The message that Hate List portrays is that, even though Nick was bullied relentlessly, his anger and pursuit of revenge don’t equal the damage he caused – not even a fraction of it. That’s because – and as someone who just recently graduated, I can say this with absolute confidence – those things will come and go. Though I can’t speak for everyone, teenagers mature and come to regret what they’ve done and who they used to be. It was Nick’s inability to contain his anger – deal with it, find a source for it, see past it – that caused him to explode.
And although what Nick did was unforgivable, what Jennifer Brown doesn’t let the reader forget is that he was a human being. She peeks into the kind of person he used to be, before his mind became clouded with violence. She shows how kind he was and how much he loved those he cared about, and how even after what he’s done, Valerie can still grieve for him.
Valerie is a great protagonist, because when Nick blew up, she caught most of the shrapnel. She has to deal with so much guilt: over not noticing Nick’s behavior, for causing her family grief, for starting the mess in the first place. She has to look at the faces of all of the people that she used to blame for her suffering, but were actually innocent, and at what she did to them, indirectly. She has to find ways to make amends, even when people won’t let her. Hate List shows her maturity from beginning to end.
I was completely absorbed by this book. The emotions were all so tangible. One of the qualities of Jennifer Brown’s writing that I love is how she pulls out the flaws in human beings and uses them to shape her books. She shows how even the people we love the most can turn into the people we hate; how even the nicest ones we know can turn cruel. That’s what makes her books so realistic, so engrossing, and so hard to put down.