I read Hate List by Jennifer Brown this past week and was absolutely riveted. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, it's about a girl named Val whose boyfriend shot several of their fellow students in the cafeteria one morning before killing himself. In the aftermath, Val is both loved and hated—hated for her relationship with Nick and for creating the list of enemies that became Nick's targets; loved for stepping in front of the gun and stopping the massacre from becoming worse than it already was.
The opening chapters are intense as they recount two separate events: the morning of the shooting and the first day of school the following year. These chapters are both impossible to put down and incredibly hard to read. But they are only the set-up for the real story: Val's journey to acceptance—from herself, her family and the community.
Ultimately what really pulled me into the book was Val herself. She's such a real character. Her conflicting emotions feel so genuine: confusion because she still loves Nick and misses him and can't reconcile the Nick she knew with the boy pulling the trigger; defensiveness because everyone is blaming her and she never wanted anyone to die; guilt because she believes what happened was her fault and doesn't think she deserves to be called a hero.
Everything about the story feels authentic. It gets the little details right—like the way Val curls into her seat on the bus with her knees propped up against the seat in front of her. It shows complicated relationships between all the characters involved, particularly within Val's family. It's believable from the large scale to the small scale.
By the end of the book I was fighting tears. The ending is a cathartic release of all the emotion that has built up throughout the story. It isn't a “happy” ending, but it's a hopeful one, and I think it's exactly what the story needed.
It's a hard book, but one worth reading. I'm very glad I did.