Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Hate List by Jennifer Brown

The Hate List by Jennifer Brown is a young adult novel that tackles a disturbing topic, the aftermath of a Columbine type school shooting.  The novel is narrated by Valerie Leftman, a student at Garvin High School where the shooting takes place. When we meet Valerie she is in the hospital recovering from her injuries sustained when she saves the life of a classmate by hurling herself at the school shooter.  Nick Levil, the shooter, and also a student at Garvin High then turns the gun on himself thus ending his killing spree in which six students and a teacher are dead and others wounded.

Valerie is a hero for risking her life to save her fellow classmate, Jessica Campbell and for bringing Nick's killing rampage to an end.  What complicates this story though is that Nick was Valerie's boyfriend.  She had no idea what he was planning on that awful day but many students and teachers don't believe her.  The reason is that the newspapers report that Valerie and Nick kept a hate list, a notebook in which they would write down things and people they hated including the names of the classmates who regularly bullied them and made their school life miserable.  For Valerie the list was just a way to let off steam but for Nick the hate list became something much darker.

And that's really the premise of this powerful novel.  How does Valerie make it through her senior year when she returns to Garvin High?  How does she recover both physically and emotionally?  Do her friends stick by her? Are there classmates who suprisingly reach out to Valerie who prior to the shooting would not have given her the time of day? The novel spends time on Valerie's parents reaction to the shooting and then there is Nick.  Valerie knows she should hate him for what he did but she still remembers the thoughtful boyfriend before the bullying began to change him and the author does a very good job in letting us see Nick before the rage overtook him and why Valerie would care about him.  Valerie blames herself for what happened. What signals did she miss about Nick and how he was changing? Why did she come up with the hate list? Was she secretly hoping that Nick would take action?  These are the questions that haunt Valerie as she tells her story to the readers.

The Hate List by Jennifer Brown was published in 2009 and was given a starred review in Publisher's Weekly.  The book went on to win numerous young adult novel awards but its not a book just for teens.  Everyone will benefit from meeting Valerie who is a bright, strong and complicated young woman or as the author says a character who is a hero, a villain but most of all human and I would say that the author Jennifer Brown has done a masterful job with the Hate List.  A starred review from me as well.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Drinking Life: A Memoir by Pete Hamill

One of my Mom's favorite books was A Drinking Life: A Memoir by Pete Hamill and I am sorry that I never got around to reading it at the time.  I would have liked to have discussed it with Mom.  I have read the book now though and here are my thoughts.

A Drinking Life is an interesting book with important things to say about how a young Pete Hamill born in Brooklyn in a neighborhood where you did not dream big, found the drive to become a legendary newspaper columnist and author of eleven novels.  Pete Hamill clearly loved his mother who encouraged him to follow his dreams. He loved his father too but as Pete explains his father worked long hours and drank too much when he was home.  Also his father Billy Hamill didn't understand his son's passions when it came to cartoons and his love of books.

As a teenager, Hamill got a scholarship to the prestigious Regis High School in Manhattan.  He dropped out of Regis at age 16, got a job at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and began taking art classes at night.  In 1957 at age 17 he joined the Navy and after a few years in the Navy moved to Mexico to study painting.  In 1960 at age 25 with a wealth of experience (several lifetimes of experience) behind him, Pete Hamill started working as a reporter for the New York Post.

A Drinking Life is about drinking of course and how it permeated Hamill's early life and the neighborhoid he grew up in.  As the memoir progresses Hamill's drinking becomes serious and he writes about what finally caused him to quit.  The memoir is also about trying to be a cartoonist and then a painter before he became a writer. And in A Drinking Life it's fascinating to read about the great comic strips and cartoonists of the era.

Also what stood out for me was Pete Hamill's unwillingness to settle.  When at 16 he got a job at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for many that would have been their career path, job security and after 30 years a good pension. But as Hamill describes it in his memoir he wanted more.  Throughout his teenage and young adult years he was constantly questioning himself.  Is this where I want to be right now? And if the answer was no, he moved on and changed his situation.

As I read A Drinking life there were parts of it that reminded me of Angela's Ashes but Angela's Ashes is by far the better book which is not suprising.  Very few memoirs can compete with Frank McCourt's book about his impoverished Limerick childhood.  Pete Hamill is quite honest in his memoir, shockingly so at times, and he has truths to tell too but the book dragged for me a good part of the way.  So instead of A Drinking Life I would suggest you try out one of Pete Hamill's novels, specifically Snow in August about a ten year old boy growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940's which I can highly recommend.