Hate List is written by Jennifer Brown. It was published in 2009 by Little, Brown and Company. It is Brown’s first novel. Brown’s website can be found here.
Genre: Tough Read, Realistic, Young Adult
“Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently save 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.”
“Is there a problem?” Mrs. Tennille asked. “Kelsey? Meghan? Is there a reason you’re not in your chairs?”
“It’s Ginny,” Meghan said, pointing at the crying girl, who I now realized was Ginny Baker. I’d heard on the news about all the plastic surgery she’d had, but hadn’t really realized how much it had changed her face until now.
Ginny zipped her backpack and stood. Her whole body was shaking.
“It’s her,” she said, without moving. Everyone knew who she was talking about, though, and they all turned to look at me. I put my face back down toward my hands and squeezed my fingernails into my palms even harder. I sucked my lips inside my mouth and bit down on them hard from the inside, clamping them shut. “I can’t sit here with her without thinking about…about…” she sucked in a breath and then let it out with a stream of anguish that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. “Why did they let her come back?”
“Valerie,” she said and tugged my elbow lightly. “Just give them a try. Jessica really wants to make it work.”
“Make what work?” I asked. “Am I the class project now? Am I some sort of big joke? Why can’t she just leave me alone? They were fine leaving me alone before.”
Mrs. Tate shrugged, smiled. “I think she just wants to be friends.”
But why? I wanted to scream. Why does Jessica Campbell suddenly want to be my friend? Why is she suddenly nice to me? “I don’t need friends,” I said.
Warnings: Violence, mentions of suicide, general feelings of angst, swearing.
Recommended Age Range: 16+
What I Liked:
Brown had some good things to say about truth and reality through Dr. Heiler’s advice to Valerie about seeing what was really there. Really (ha), the whole book is based on reality and the way people really are, not how they are perceived to be.
There’s some really intense material dealt with in this book, but for the most part it’s handled really well by Brown. This is Brown’s first book, and it really sets the stage for her next books in terms of content, topics, and resolution.
The emotions of Valerie, her friends, and her family are well-portrayed. There are the people who blame her completely and can’t get over it (like Ginny), the people who think she had something to do with it marginally (like Stacey), and the people who don’t think she should be blamed at all (like Jessica), which is way more realistic than just having everybody hate her while she wallows in angst and self-pity. People call her out for her actions, too, which is also really well done.
What I Didn’t Like:
I don’t really like the way Brown decided to end it. It sounded like Valerie was running away from anything, which went against what she had learned throughout the book. Also, no one seemed to care that she was just going away like that.
There wasn’t really much resolution in regards to her art, her encounter with Troy, and that confusing encounter with Josh. The Josh one especially needed resolution, I felt. At least a brief mention or conversation between the two.
I strongly disliked the way that Valerie’s dad’s behavior was just excused away. I don’t care what tragedy your family has just been through, no father should treat his daughter that way. And Valerie/Brown just kept excusing it away for different reasons, as if it was okay/acceptable for him to be acting like that. Um, NO.
Hate List deals with most of its intense material well, with realistic emotions and actions. Valerie’s development is strongly seen throughout the book and the overall topic is handled with care and respect. However, the ending just does not feel right with respect to what Valerie has learned, and the lack of resolution with some things and the excuse of Valerie’s dad’s behavior leaves a sour note on the otherwise good novel.
Coming Up Next: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson