Jennifer Brown – Hate List

תוצאת תמונה עבור ‪jennifer brown hate list‬‏

Whenever the subject of school shooting rears its head, someone has to point out that it’s a topic for overly-privileged kids. The mere act of talking about privilege in this context is a display of a lack of empathy, not a clever critique of society. It also misses the point, and why school shooting became so iconic. To understand that you have to understand what a terror attack is.

A terror attack isn’t one where people simply get hurt. Killing isn’t even the main objective. Terror is communicative violence, its purpose is to attack an icon and make everyone connect that icon to the event. Notice that the most famous terror attacks are always connected to a major place. The twin towers aren’t just big, but in an iconic place in an iconic city. The purpose was to make us always fear whenever we’re near that ground, and many will be near that ground since it’s so iconic. Terror attacks are meant to devastate us, to cause emotional damage far beyond the initial event.

Jennifer Brown generally takes the well-worn narrative of the school shooting, that of a bullied kid having his revenge on the world. Consciously or unconsciously though, she’s aware of the meaning of a school shooting, its similarity to a terror attack. Her book isn’t so much about bullying but about the devastating effect of a tragedy.

Although written in the typical form of a Young Adult novel – minimalist, first-person, a whole lot of reflection and emotional confession – the book tries to break outside its main character’s head. In the end of the novel Brown wrote this was Valerie’s story, and the structure may fit this but the content doesn’t. She’s a character as much as she is a window for us to witness the effect of tragedy on people.

Thankfully, Brown tries to grasp the complexity and psychology in the fallout of tragedy. Everyone reacts differently. Some stick to their old ways. Others radically change it. Some are angry, others become forgiving because what’s the point? Tragedy doesn’t make us into angelic beings. You actually can’t predict what tragedy will make of us.

Brown doesn’t manage to capture it with enough complexity to have impact. Only in the end there is a truly profound moment, one where the fragility of being human is captured. A short inscription on the grave of the shooter gets it. His grave is pushed aside with a small epitaph because he is the killer after all, but the killer had a mom who loved him after all. It echoes Susan Klebold’s article, or any interview with a parent of a killer. Victims had families who will never be the same again, but the killer also had a family who loved him.

A good chunk of the book is about this, about carrying on knowing the person you loved is a killer. I wish Brown would’ve delved into this dilemma more deeply, but then again this is extremely difficult. The highlights are the moments where Valerie is allowed to reminisce about the good times, and where she’s trying to connect what she knew of Nick to the violence. In these moments, despite the lack of character development, she finds some emotional punch.

Like many a Young Adult novelists, Brown’s characters are driven by emotion, not a psyche that’s unique to them. She has enough empathy that her characters react in various ways. Even the assholes who don’t change, who become more asshole-ish still come off as human being. Their point of view is there in front of us. Sure, it sucks for Valerie, but it also sucks for the father. His character is the most interesting since he’s supposed to be the least sympathetic – the father who abandons his family for a younger woman. His behavior never goes against this archetype, but in subtle moments we’re allowed to understand him and why he’d go after someone younger.

The portrayal is complex because of the variety of reactions. The problem is these are just reactions floating around, not tied to anything. Those few who get developed don’t end up as anything interesting. Nick is a typical sexy outcast – thin, listens to Rock music and can quote Shakespear. Bullying in this novel isn’t quite convincing, since Nick too often plays like a sexy mysterious guy. It’s not overdone, but nothing about him is especially weird. Bullies seek the weirdo, the one who isn’t flamboyent, doesn’t rebel and doesn’t have anything to offer but weirdness.

Likewise, it’s hard to think of what we learned about these characters. They’re human enough, but the complexity is too vague. It’s all outlines which are good enough, but I’m left here constructing their psyche. For once, minimalism betrayed the story. This story needed some inspiration from Dreisser, long slow moments that show who they are beyond the tragedy. Brown focuses so much on the effect of tragedy she creates people who have no lives outside of the tragedy. It’s only half the work.

It’s a shame, because otherwise Brown proves to be more capable than her peers. YA has a lot of talented writers, but they capture the spirit, the energy of youth without enough depth. These are enjoyable books, but mostly as research material before you write your own. Brown does a little better by widening her perspective, and so the novel is not just the story of Valerie but of everyone and how they deal with grief, how they cope with the tragedy. If only we could get a little deeper underneath these reactions, if only we could hear more than just their voices but let us walk in their shoes. I can’t tell if Brown doesn’t try or is just in incapable, but widening her reach is enough to give this novel extra emotional punch.

Hate List is not a total classic in the genre, but it deserves some respect in it. Many authors could learn from Brown’s wide reach, and the topic of school shooting gets a respectful treatment for once. Perhaps Brown is not just good enough to reach those heights, but she knows which mountains to climbs, what to do and so the novel has far more good in it than bad.

3 out of 5

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Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler – The Future of Us

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The amount of people registered on Facebook is higher than the population of any country. Ever since the internet’s inception, its been affecting our speech and thinking. Popular sites are especially effective at this. The whole ‘intellectual property’ discussion became huge thanks piracy. File sharing sites proved there’s something between selling and buying. Social networks became an essential part of people’s lives. Facebook is perhaps the most important one. We expect pretty much anyone to have a Facebook account, just like we expect anyone to have a phone number. If you don’t think Facebook deserves to be a center for a novel, you and the zeitgeist are probably not on speaking terms.

The premise of The Future of Us can sure sound gimmicky, but exactly because it’s Facebook that has the potential to be great. It doesn’t get there, but that’s because the authors are hesitant to try hard enough. They got enough confidence and intention to not make this a typical romantic comedy, even if the tropes appear often. The novel is more concerned with the characters and the themes than trying to great a romantic thrill, but not enough.

The novel’s highlights are the descriptions of the relationship with Facebook. Facebook plays a different role in this story. It serves as some sort of prophet, rather than a social networking site. Yet the character’s relationship with it mirrors ours. They’re obsessed with their future selves like one will be obsessed with a crush. They look at the surface details, base their whole conclusions on them and do what they can to change them.

Despite being a culture with a lot less internet, Facebook quickly takes the same power it has on them like it has on us. That’s because it’s a site that allows you to get easy and quick information about other people. It allows you sum yourself up in a few statuses and pictures. It would have been successful during any time. The desire to know others and expose ourselves was always there. It’s what communication’s all about. It’s not unique to an internet-obsessed culture like us.

It also helps to have good two leads. Emma and Josh aren’t boring romantic leads. They’re two people, each with their own distinct view on things. It especially helps how Mackler breaks stereotypes without really trying. Emma’s existence isn’t one guy. In fact, she’s a fairly promiscous and sexually open person. It’s not presented as something to be cured, or as something bold that makes Emma a feminist icon. It’s to give her a different worldview than Josh.

Josh isn’t just the nice guy that the girl needs to grow up in order to appreciate. By the time he becomes the right choice for Emma, it’s less because ‘he’s not a jerk’ and more because of the relationship between them and his other qualities. Asher didn’t write him as a martyred nice guy, but as a more laid-back person that counters Emma’s ambitions.

Having the right ingridients isn’t enough though. Asher and Mackler are competent, but there’s nothing here that raises the novel above merely ‘good’. It may be the prose, which flows well and is free from bullshit, but contains no unique voice or insight to the characters. It may that the side characters don’t have a life outside the plot, and they exist mostly to be the wise men who give the main character’s advice.

The plotting is also generic. There’s a side-plot that feels very out of place. It felt like it was ripped from an old draft that was written more like a comic thriller. It may worked there, but the end result aims for something much deeper, so the sudden shift in tone doesn’t help. The progress of the romance is also disappointing. It’s more natural than most novels, and the authors don’t commit the sin of having the characters suddenly decide they’re in love. Yet, by the time they are, there isn’t enough basis for their relationships. There’s enough for them to be good friends, but they make unconvincing lovers.

There is room in the world for novels like this though. It’s not one that uses ‘light hearted’as an excuse to cover up flaws. It’s a genuinely entertaining story with good characters and interesting themes. It may not do more than that, but masterpieces can be exhausting. If romance or the internet are subjects you’re into, there’s more to enjoy than get angry at in The Future of Us.

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