The Modern Tragedy: School Shootings Take a Different Form in Hate List

Jennifer Brown. Hate List. New York, NY: Little, Brown, 2009.

"Because who you are is supposed to be the easiest question in the world to answer, right?"
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High school senior Valerie Leftman returns to Garvin High School where just five months earlier her outcast of a boyfriend, Nick, open fired on their school cafeteria. Back at school, Val is now forced to pick up the pieces of her life and relationships while facing the guilt of co-writing a hate list of bullies and stereotypes that was used to target the victims of the shooting. The novel takes place in both the present, as Val tries to navigate her way through her senior year with new and surprising people by her side, and through continual flashbacks of the shooting and her relationships, causing her to question who she is, who she was and who Nick, the thought to be the love of her life, really was.

While Jennifer Brown does not use a necessarily sophisticated writing technique, the style appeals to young adults. The novel is easy to read and has a general fast pace, but is subject to cliches young adult authors can fall under. The book reads like Twilight by Stephenie Meyer in the sense that the story is a good one, but its characters may be underdeveloped and very one dimensional, and while its characters are juniors and seniors in high school, it could easily be considered for eighth or ninth graders, as well. Often times, it seems as though Brown tries to sound like a teenager through Valerie, overusing words like "totally" and using characters that are typical high schoolers. The jock, the goth girl, the butch softball player; the list goes on. This may be a deterrent for some students, but it could also win readers over.

Overall, the novel does touch on issues high school students have to deal with on a daily basis, but instead of tackling them and proposing issues, Brown seems to dance around what is really at the core of the story. Bullying, depression, and parental issues are all issues that Valerie has to deal with, but even within 405 pages, it seems as though the topics just barely touch the surface of what's really going on in the minds of the characters. We would've liked for the author to develop the characters more, and possibly propose more ideas as to how to come together after a school shooting and how to deal with the aftermath of bullying.

Recommendations for Teachers
Hate List is a novel that deals with mature themes such as a school shooting, bullying, depression, and suicide. The characters are students going through their senior year of high school; however, Jennifer Brown does not seem to give her characters a maturity level that would match their age. As a result, this book would suit students at a freshman or sophomore level of high school the best.

This book would not be suitable to plan unit around, but could be recommended for a literature circle or paired with discussions about bullying and teen violence. The problem, as mentioned in the review, is the lack of resolution given to these issues by the author. If possible, a teacher should help facilitate thought and discussion as to what the students from the school should have taken from the aftermath of the shooting. They can talk about proper ways to deal with the struggles that the students in the book face and suggest resources that the school offers for students who may be struggling with the issues of depression or violence.

Teachers could also recommend that students look into some real life information on school shootings, perhaps by watching Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, or reading the diary entries of those shooters that were made public to compare the torture of Nick in the book to that of Dylan and Eric from the Columbine Massacre. While these might seem like rather dicy sources to look at, the book shares similar themes and events to actual school massacres and would give students more insight to real life consequences and what happens in the wake of such tragic events.

Jennifer Brown
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Jennifer Brown is a two-time winner of the Erma Bombeck Global Humor award (2005 & 2006), as she used to write a weekly humor column for The Kansas City Star. Now, Brown is a full-time young adult novelist. The Hate List, Brown's first novel, received many awards including three starred reviews, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a VOYA "Perfect Ten," and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year in 2009, and more. Brown lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband and three children.
Brown grew up mostly in the Kansas City-area, and grew up on a farm with a large family. When she graduated high school, she left to the inner city to meet people she otherwise would never have met. She moved often, and eventually began teaching at a preschool, taking night classes at William Jewel College, eventually completing a degree in Psychology. Eventually, she began writing seriously, got a job at The Kansas City Star and from there, became a young adult author.

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

Below is an interview with DJ Machale discussing his inspiration for the trilogy as well as his history with the subject matter. Beneath that is a fan-made trailer exploring what the book might look like in film form.

Additional Resources:

Helpful Websites:
Stop Bullying Now!
Webisodes, games, advice, information, and resources for kids and adults on bullying and how to stop it.
Where You Are NOT Alone
Share your story and connect with others who’ve dealt with bullying.

Mean Girls Aren’t Cool
Female Bullying Education & Prevention
Facts and information on female bullying.

Programs To Make Your School A Safer Place:
Safe School Ambassadors
SAVE: Students Against Violence Everywhere
STOP Violence: A Program of Synergy Services
Olweus Bullying Prevention Program
Tips for Working Together to Create Safer Schools
Bullying: How Educators Can Make Schools Safer| Edutopia
Stopping School Violence-National Crime Prevention Council

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