Saturday, December 18, 2010

Book Musings: The Hate List

Initially I had difficulty relating to Valerie's character, not because she was unsympathetic or unrecognisable, but because she existed in relation to her boyfriend, Nick, who had been the perpetrator of a school shooting. She was only real in relation to the crime, it seemed, and it took me a long time to be able to picture her physically or as a person. In a way, this was a deliberate choice by Brown, because Valerie doesn't know who she is initially either.

It took a long time for her to become a character independent of her plot-- this is interesting, because at the end Brown notes that Valerie came to her fully-formed. If I didn't have this knowledge, I would have imagined she wanted to tell the story of a shooting and crafted Valerie because of this, not the other way around.

The plot is structured non-chronologically, starting with Valerie's return to school and then flashing back to the time during and surrounding the shooting. I understand her reason for doing this, because it's about aftermath, not before...math. However, I think this choice should have been committed to. There's enough backstory in the text not-in-flashback that it could have stood on its own. That, or start with the shooting-- conventional, yes, but a good hook. That would, of course, change the tone of the book, so I think the first choice is the best.

This book was FILLED with secondary-characters. Some of them were unnecessary. The art teacher seemed to have very little role when Valerie was discovering art by herself. I could never picture Valerie's mother fully, though she did have an interesting character. I needed more physical markers. Her brother's defection and anger at her is never dealt with, and is jarring when he had been so supportive. In general, the cast was well-fleshed out, but could have used tightening. Characters easily could have been combined.

Nick was a great character--though perhaps Shakespeare is a cliched love for a troubled teen-- he was well-rounded and the least likely character to be well-rounded in a book about a shooting. The final scenes made me cry, with one poignant detail about a boy being shot after he had just met his baby brother in the hospital. I don't know why it triggered tears; the dark irony, maybe, but I admire this book for that moment. I was definitely invested in Valerie, but I'm not sure she could exist outside the novel. It's like a pH test. Maybe she scores a 6, but she's not perfectly balanced.


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