Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Reading Level: Young Adult (14+)
Pages: 281 (ARC)
Source: BEA 2015
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.
The auditorium doors won't open.
Someone starts shooting.
Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.
I simply cannot rate this book. It is terrifying, yet necessary...disturbing yet all too real. Polarizing is the best word. Readers will either love it or hate it. So, I suppose, if I have to rate it for the sake of rating it, I'll give it 3 stars to remain neutral. But this is perhaps the most empty rating I have ever given because I can't gather my thoughts enough to truly rate this book. Upon reflection, I do not think I ever will. This book shook me up and messed with my head, and I do not ever want to delve into it again. What a powerfully terrifying debut.
Going into this book, you know people are going to die. More than a few, really. I guess I was shocked that the violence was so vivid and brutal. But, in the end, it is vivid and brutal to those who experience school shootings firsthand, so why should readers be spared? I typically cannot handle violence, but this book was like a car accident. You can't look away even though you know you should. Because of this it makes it a fast read, but more because it is impossible not to become emotionally invested in such a story. You want everyone to live, you know not everyone will, so now you must see who is able to. While that part of the story is supposed to be predictable, I am sad to admit that other sub-plot devices are also predictable, but perhaps it is because the reader's adrenaline is on high and constantly coming to the worst conclusions as we read.
This book is told in four POVs. It makes for a very interesting story since all four individuals have different kinds of connections to the shooter. I will admit the POVs were hard to distinguish at first. They all have very similar voices and different people they are close to, but eventually each name builds their own persona and you can understand their differences. We have Autumn, an aspiring dancer and younger sister to the school shooter. We have Claire, a gifted runner who may follow her older sister's footsteps into the military that is the ex-girlfriend of the shooter. We have Sylvia, girlfriend to Autumn and hater of the shooter because of inexplicable things he has done to her. And we have Tomas, twin brother of Sylvia who knows the shooter has hurt his sister in the past and has extracted his revenge, but with no knowledge of how exactly she was hurt. This book has POC main characters and LGBTQ main characters--something beautifully done by one of the co-founders of We Need Diverse Books.
This book touches on so many tough subjects aside from the actual shooting: abusive parents, alcoholism, death, near-fatal disease, bullying, homophobia, rape, depression, and so much more. But the thing that resonated with me most is the bullying. There is no way to get inside a shooter's mind, but it seemed that all could have been avoided if the shooter didn't experience the extreme bullying that he did. He was ostracized among his peers to the point that he pushed everyone near him away, hurting them yet not understanding that he was. This book serves as an important lesson about bullying, and serves as a solid call to action to stop bullying.
This book ripped my heart out. It terrified me. It left me in tears. I do not think I'll sleep easy tonight having read this book, but it's never easy to sleep easy after hearing of the most recent shooting on the news these days either. This book tackles something that is all too real today, and it is going to leave readers sharply divided in the "this book is absolutely necessary camp" and the "this book is terrifyingly uncomfortable camp." I am down the middle. This book is necessary, but it is terrifyingly uncomfortable and some readers will not be able to handle it. That is for you to decide because the story inside is all too real.
FTC Disclaimer: I received no compensation of any kind in exchange for my honest review.