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.


  1. This sounds very good.

    The issues that it takes on are very important and do not lend themselves to simple or pat answers.

    Worthy literature is not afraid to take on such topics.

    1. Thanks Brian. It really is a good book that took on a difficult topic. Its narrated by Valerie and the author does a very good job in letting us see her thoughts fears as she tries to make sense of it all. One thing that's interesting is that neither Nick's Mom or Valerie's parents knew what was going on at school in terms of the bullying. Ditto for the teachers and that's a problem. Kids don't tell.