Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hate List, by Jennifer Brown

This edition published in 2010 by Little, Brown, Hachette.

Hmmmmm. By all means Hate List has the makings of an ‘important book’. It should be intriguing. It should be challenging, hit you in the guts, leave you thinking about it, running the emotional gauntlet afterwards. I feel like this book should have the shock or the wow factor. To be honest, that’s why I read it. All these reviews were telling me it would be all these things. The concept was telling me it would be all those things – that it was one not to be missed. Hate List concerns the aftermath of a teenage girl’s active role in a school shooting; a few chapters even concern the act as it was happening. Pretty big, controversial stuff. And yet this is what I came away with: boring. Emotionally un-involving. I wanted it to end SO BADLY, just because I’d had enough. And I don’t think it was bad by any means – I didn’t hate it – and it is certainly a brave book. But it just doesn’t feel terribly important.
One of my big problems was that I just found most of the characters not particularly likeable and not particularly interesting. Valerie, the main character, the person we follow for these 400+ pages, is really quite tiresome. Before the shooting she was a bit of an outsider, picked on because of her difference and her supposed non-conformance – by which I mean black eyeliner, black jeans and a generally sulky disposition. Her boyfriend Nick, who is the perpetrator of the shootings, is much the same. I really couldn’t stand him either, even with Valerie’s many flashbacks given us an insight into ‘her’ Nick – nice, loving, attentive Nick. They pretty much hate on everyone for anything, but especially those who give them a hard time at school, and keep a notebook of everyone they hate – the ‘hate list’. I didn’t feel bad for them. Nick accidentally shoots Valerie in the leg and then shoots himself. I didn’t care. I didn’t find Valerie’s grief afterwards particularly compelling. I felt her guilt was often well-deserved. I was sick of her whining. Mostly everyone is against her (both in her family and at school) after the shooting but she is so dim and petulant that I can’t say I blame them.
Her Mum was annoying, her Dad was an ass, and her brother had potential to be an interesting character but towards the end he kind of started to embody a cliché. Her classmates didn’t really stand out to me; they kind of just said and did what they needed to in regards to moving the story along. I did like her psychiatrist and some of the teachers.
Another problem I had was with the way Brown chooses to tell the story – it kind of just plods along; stylistically there is nothing that really caught my attention. After reading a few of the newspaper clippings that open some chapters, I kind of just scanned the rest. I would have preferred to see the words in the clippings in the actual mouths of the people at school and in the community, even directly to Valerie, to make it that much more dynamic. I kind of liked how Val chose to express herself in her notebook of drawings but the storyline where she discovers art class and the eccentric Bea was once again a little cliché. I think for the most part that Brown handled t
he scope of the book well, and I know the subject matter is depressing and tragic, but it just needed something to spice it up.
I really, really wanted Hate List to work, but for me, it was just too dull. Not even by-the-numbers – just more that I couldn’t feel anything towards it except a vague irritancy that I still was not at the end.

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