Valerie spends the summer hiding out from her friends and anyone else who knows her after her boyfriend Nick puts an effective end to the school year with a violent and deadly rampage, killing students and teachers from their shared “hate list” as well as innocent bystanders before ending his own life. Just as in the dark about Nick’ actions as every one else, Valerie didn’t have any idea that Nick was planning to execute such an event and though she is injured saving another student on the list she is shunned by her community and left to bear the brunt of Nick’s crime entirely on her own.
With the help of her beloved therapist, Valerie is able to find the strength to return to the same high school where the tragedy occurred, and where her boyfriend has caused so much damage on “their” behalf. The deal that she and her therapist have struck is that she only has to make it through the first term, if it’s too hard, she can go away to school somewhere else after that. While the first few days and weeks are far from promising, Valerie finds reserves of strength she never imagined and allies in unlikely places.
Even coming in the wake of reading the awesomely well-written and researched Columbine, by Dave Cullen, I was still stunned by Hate List. The beautifully nuanced portrayal of this young teenage girl- whom Jennifer Brown has so lovingly created- as she is trying to come to terms with so many gigantic issues like survivor’s guilt, anger, responsibility and loss, with little to no support from her family and friends, was unbelievably touching.
Valerie’s boyfriend, Nick, has done just about the most awful thing in the world, but I loved that Brown rendered him through Valerie’s eyes compassionately and was able to express his humanity in both his goodness and the overwhelming pain that led him to such horrendous actions. I also loved exploring all of the conflicting emotions which Valerie experienced as she faced not only what Nick did and the consequences it has had for her and so many others, but the fact that she loved and missed him so much.
I love me some complex characters and issues in a novel, and Valerie and this cast and story were definitely on the case. I loved and hated, sympathized and related with just about everyone in this book, and for me that is the highest praise that I can give an author. When they have created characters that are so honest, complex and moving that I am weeping with them one minute and mad at them the next, they have created a story that I learn and grow from, and one that will stay with me long after I have closed the pages of the book, and that is what this incredible first novel has done. Kudos.