Author: Kody Keplinger
Published Aug. 28, 2018 by Scholastic Press
Genre: YA contemporary
Date finished: Aug. 19, 2018
It’s been three years since the Virgil County High School Massacre. Three years since my best friend, Sarah, was killed in a bathroom stall during the mass shooting. Everyone knows Sarah’s story–that she died proclaiming her faith.
But it’s not true.
I know because I was with her when she died. I didn’t say anything then, and people got hurt because of it. Now Sarah’s parents are publishing a book about her, so this might be my last chance to set the record straight . . . but I’m not the only survivor with a story to tell about what did–and didn’t–happen that day.
Except Sarah’s martyrdom is important to a lot of people, people who don’t take kindly to what I’m trying to do. And the more I learn, the less certain I am about what’s right. I don’t know what will be worse: the guilt of staying silent or the consequences of speaking up . . .
My thoughts (spoiler free)
I was lucky enough to grab a copy of this book at BookExpo since I was working at Kody Keplinger’s table, and what a good thing, too!
As anyone would expect, this book about the aftermath of a school shooting is intense. I was happy but not surprised when it made me reconsider how I think about the public suffering that survivors must endure, the trauma and damage that these shootings cause beyond the loss of life, and how stories are twisted to fit a narrative that is more comfortable to spectators. With a story of this heavy subject matter, I expected these things. What I didn’t expect, however, is how I would become genuinely invested in the characters and the story itself.
The plot follows Leanne “Lee” Bauer three years after she witnessed her best friend’s death in a school shooting. Since then, a story has spread about how Sarah died which the community has latched onto as a symbol of hope. However, Lee knows that the story isn’t true. Worried about the damage caused by the lie, as well the fact that she doesn’t want her friend remembered for something that didn’t happen, she sets out to reveal the truth, even though by doing so she risks ostracism and must relive some of the worst moments of her life.
The story is mostly told in the present day, with flashes to events in the past, various letters from other survivors recounting their experiences, and tributes from Lee and other characters to those who died in the shooting. I genuinely had to keep reminding myself that this was fiction – it felt so real, and unfortunately in today’s world, it practically is. I was really drawn in by Lee’s struggle to tell the truth and honor the people who died while also trying to protect herself.
Lee is the narrator and main character of this story. Her PTSD and fear was so difficult to read about, but I thought it felt so palpable and real. She would sometimes get frustrated that she couldn’t react to situations like other people and was stuck in this nihilist loop of fearing death while believing that nothing mattered. Although she was a pretty reserved character, she could be pushy and a bit self-absorbed when it came to the people around her, and I appreciated her character growth as she came to recognize this about herself and grow out of it. Also, wow, she was asexual!! Though that wasn’t hugely significant plot-wise, it impacted her character and her relationships with other people.
We also get to know the five other survivors of the shooting pretty well, especially Lee’s close friends Miles and Denny. Miles is Lee’s neighbor who hates to talk about his experience in the shooting, and Denny is a classmate who feels guilty that he experienced the shooting differently because he’s blind. I really loved the friendship between these three.
All the other survivors brought something new as well and made me think about the shooting in different way. Their various stories refused to allow a simple, straightforward narrative with one absolute truth. They constantly surprised me (and Lee) with their accounts.
The whole book is written like a confession to the reader – Lee often addresses the audience and refers to things that “you” should know about. This made it feel all the more realistic, since I kept thinking “oh yeah, of course I know about that,” even though the entire thing was fictional.
Other than that, I really enjoyed the writing. It felt like it was written by a bunch of teenagers, and not in a bad way – the language felt like actual language that teenagers would use.
This book felt all too relevant to today. In fact, the most unrealistic thing was that there weren’t really mentions of other shootings happening, when in reality they happen every few months these days because we live in the nightmare timeline.
Another thing: I really appreciated that the shooter was never named while all the victims were given at least a few pages of tribute. This book in no way glorified what he did, as we learn next to nothing about him and instead focus on the actual victims of his actions. Which, if you ask me, is how these things should be treated. I can tell this was a deliberate choice on the author’s part and I’m so grateful for it.
Genuinely I couldn’t get enough of this book and I flew through it in a single day and cried in several places. I really need everyone to read this and understand how I feel.
It comes out next Tuesday, August 28, so go pick it up ASAP!