Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved 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.
I learned several writing lessons from this amazing book, and here's a sampling:
- Create a sympathetic villain: this is possibly the best example I've ever read. Nick brought a gun to school and shot other students in cold blood. Students who begged for their lives. He was a monster...we should hate him. But this author did an amazing job of showing Nick's pain, and how bullying transformed his life.
- Use newspaper articles to provide plot and character details. Sprinkled between the chapters were newspaper accounts of the shooting. It was a clever way to add details without an info dump, and without taking away from the story. And each of the shooting victims was memorialized in the local paper, familiarizing the reader with the teachers and students that lost their lives on that fateful day.
- Use old emails instead of flashbacks. During the police investigation, Valerie was forced to defend the email exchanges she'd shared with her boyfriend. They told the emotional story of frustration, bitterness, and hate without boring the reader with long, detailed flashbacks.
- Mixed-up timelines can keep readers guessing. Sometimes I'm frustrated by a mixed-up timeline, but in this book, it kept me interested. It doesn't open with the shooting--it opens on Valerie's first day back to school. But little by little the author deftly went back to the day of the shooting, then back to the present. I was hooked.
- Introduce characters, clues, and details slowly. A lot of victims. A lot of survivors. A lot of clues and details. None of this was dumped on me as I read the story. It drip, drip, dripped in, and I was able to absorb it all as the threads came together.
If you read YA, and you like contemporary stories, I highly recommend this book. Although it involved a school shooting, it was mostly a character story, and the author handled the violence well.
If you've read this book, what was your opinion? And if you've learned any writing lessons from a great book, please share!