This is, in my opinion, one of the most important Young Adult books written, and I think both young adults and grown adults should read it and truly digest the messages conveyed, of which I would use these two quotes from the book to summarize:
I don’t know if it’s possible to take hate away from people. Not even people like us, who’ve seen firsthand what hate can do [but] you can change a reality of hate by opening up to a friend. By saving an enemy.
We can all say at the end of the day that we’ve won once again, can’t we? Some days making it to the end of the day is quite the victory.
It is a story of a school shooting tragedy and all the lives torn apart by it. Our narrator is Valerie. Her boyfriend, Nick, was the shooter. Even though she stopped him, many people place a lot of the blame on her because she and Nick had a “hate list” of people who bullied them and these are the people Nick went after. Valorie is left alone to deal with her survivor’s guilt, her confusion over who the boy she loved truly was, and being shunned by the majority of her peers and even her parents. It’s a story about the different sides of every human. No one is “good” or “bad.” There isn’t one side or the other. It’s all about the choices you make, how you hold up against the pressures put on you. It’s a story that shows you the dangers of labels. We should not be labeling these mass shooters, or any kind of killer, as “monsters.” They are humans, and they are more than likely hurting. And they have families and friends who are also hurting.
“Beloved Son” Of course [she] would have wanted Nick remembered as a beloved son … whispering it to him in tiny letters on his headstone. You were beloved, son. You were my beloved. Even after all of this, I still remember the beloved you. I can’t forget.
We as a society have decided to overlook warning signs for so long that we don’t recognize them or know how to deal with them when we do see them. This flaw makes “monsters” and brings about these tragedies that tears apart the lives of so many people. When someone commits acts like these, so often the reaction from the people who know them are “It’s not like them to do this” or “They were such a good person, we don’t understand how this could have happened.”
People do it all the time – assume that they “know” what’s going on in someone else’s head. That’s impossible. And to think it’s possible is a mistake. A life-ruining one if you’re not careful.
Valerie is left with all these cherished memories of a boy who filled her heart with love and who she felt accepted and truly at home with. Was he always a monster? Or was he just a hurting, confused boy with nowhere to turn? Or did he turn to the wrong people? The fact stands that he was loved and he loved in return. He was human. Many things could have been done to prevent the events that took place. Same goes for events that take place in the real world, events that we let happen and then try to push out of our memories and just hope it doesn’t happen again.
The author, Jennifer Brown, is telling us to work together as the kids in her story do. Enough of us have to be on the same page on this issue to make any sort of improvement. We have to have the strength that Valerie finds within herself to keep going, to keep fighting to find who she truly is and not who everyone tells her she is.