Book Shelf

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

I acquired Hate List through my Book Love grant. Although I eagerly awaited the arrival of all my books, Hate List was one of a handful that I truly pined for. As a HiLo title, with a juicy plot, I knew kids would devour it! My students assume I have read every book we received. I aspire to be a well-read teacher, but it’s taking me a little longer than expected to get through all 500 books, so I sold the title on what piqued my interest from the story’s summary.

I was discouraged when, in February, I saw a second student returning the novel to our library unread. I approached her at the shelf and asked her why she was choosing not to complete the novel. She opened to the page she was abandoning at, around page 60, and said, “It just got boring.” I didn’t let her put it back on the shelf. Instead, I took it home determined to figure out what was so ‘boring’ about it.

There really isn’t anything boring about the novel – unless your teacher sold it to you as a story about a school shooting, which Brown explicitly states in the afterward that it is not.

Here’s what Hate List is about. It is about figuring out who you are. Although, Val’s situation is highly unique, all teens can relate to her as she is trying to determine who she is amid a failed romance, broken family, and the inability to fit in. Throughout the novel, Val questions her own beliefs after a school shooting performed by her boyfriend based on the ‘Hate List’ they co-created. As many adults and teens know, relationships change us. The people we let into our lives, can infiltrate the core of our beliefs and Val is left wondering what her real role was after the tragedy, which included the loss of her boyfriend, Nick.

Hate List allows us to see the gray area in tragedy. Although Val’s boyfriend was the shooter who took the lives of innocent children, you can empathize with Val as she grieves his loss. And then feels guilty about that grieving. By the end of the novel, I found myself hoping Val would give herself a break. Guilt can be a powerful punishment and a self-inflicted wound that is often oblivious to others.

Hate List shows us that there is more to us than meets the eye. Like David Levithan’s Everyday, Hate List can help teens see their peers as the multifaceted human beings they are and, hopefully, help kids begin to celebrate that.

After reading Hate List, I’m heading to Amazon to order:

Cullen, Dave. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2009.

Klebold, Sue. A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. Crown, 2016.

Picoult, Jodi. Nineteen Minutes. New York: Washington Square Press, 2008.