Written by Jennifer Brown
Published September, 2009 416 pages
Genres: Contemporary, Loss & Grief
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Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.
Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.
Hate List is an emotionally-charged and extremely thought-provoking debut novel from Jennifer Brown. Readers will be left thinking about the characters long after the final page is turned. However, certain portions of the novel felt a little bland and immobile and I had a hard time reading through this one as well as I would have liked.
Hate List has been on my to-read list ever since I heard about it and I was thrilled to finally find it in the local library, but I’ll admit to having a hard time getting into this one. The first quarter of the novel was sluggish and I found Valerie’s reflections of the shooting very fragmented – so much so I wasn’t able to grasp exactly what was going on. I think a better chronological order to relay the events of May 2nd would have enabled readers to get a better handle on the characters and just what exactly took place then.
I really felt for Valerie – and Nick to an extent. Jennifer Brown really wrote him in a fantastic way – so much so that as a reader you’re still able to feel a patch of fondness for him, just as Valerie does, despite his actions. I really wish, however, that we would have seen more of Valerie and Nick together and more of how their love story and friendship developed. I think it would’ve added a lot more body to the story.
This story deals a lot with healing, emotionally and physically. A lot of it is just Valerie left with her own thoughts and at times I found this to be a little lackluster in terms of ‘action’. While this is really the whole ‘point’ of the story, I found myself wanting something more to happen. That’s where I think more memories and character development regarding the secondary figures of the story would’ve come into play nicely.
I also was hoping from some acknowledgement or apology from the main ‘villain’ in Valerie’s life, Christy Bruter. I would have also liked to see more about the mysterious figure of Jeremy, the one Nick was hanging out with a lot before May 2nd. I felt his character was swept under the rug, even though Valerie thought he played a major part in Nick’s life near the end. The victims of the shooting were also left a little hollow and two-dimensional. I don’t feel like we ‘knew’ each one of them and I think that would have served the story a little better in terms of emotional ties with the reader.
Hate List was a great read, one I do recommend, but I think there was a lot of room for improvement and expansion. While the book is already 400 pages (at least) I do feel Jennifer Brown could have done a bit more on the ‘world-building’ front and getting readers up close and personal with her interesting array of characters.
Recommended to: Fans of heart-wrenching, contemporary novels will feel right at home in the pages of Hate List. I definitely recommend it.