In May of Valerie Leftman’s junior year of high school, her boyfriend Nick brought a gun to school and went on a rampage, killing eleven people and wounding many others, before finally turning the gun on himself and committing suicide. While Val didn’t know about Nick’s plans ahead of time, his intended victims all came out of a list she and Nick had started, a Hate List of the students and teachers who had made their lives miserable over the years. What follows for Val is a summer of pain – police questioning her, adding her as a suspect in the shooting, friends turning their backs on her, and unbelievable scrutiny and distrust from her family. Now it’s September, and Val has to go back to school to complete senior year – she has to deal with her guilt for making the Hate List in the first place, her grief over losing Nick, who she still loves, and figure out her place in this world she has never really felt a part of to begin with.
Hate List is powerful with a capital “P”. There is so much to love about this novel I don’t know quite how to explain it right. Val is one of the most honest, believable characters I have come across in fiction lately. The thing about Val is that she doesn’t make any excuses. For herself, for Nick, for the Hate List, for anything. She feels unbelievably guilty for writing the list, yet she knows in the bottom of her heart that she truly never intended to actually hurt anyone with it – and she had no clue that Nick was planning on doing what he did. At the same time, she is terribly candid about the reasons for why the list began, and why it continued. Simply put, she and Nick were in a lot of emotional pain from years of torment by various people at their school. It started as a way for them to vent their frustration and anger about how they were being treated on a daily basis. That makes sense to me – you are bullied, you are upset, hurt, pissed even, and you have to do something with all that emotions. The Hate List was Val’s something. She was completely unaware that Nick’s something was much worse than writing a list.
At the same time as Val’s having all these guilty feelings, she’s missing Nick terribly. He was her boyfriend for a long time, and she truly loved him with her whole heart. She acknowledges that she probably missed some signs of his violent ideas because her love for him made her blind to them. She acknowledges that he “joked” about doing something to end their misery in school, but she never took him seriously. Yet she still loved him, and loves him even after everything that happened. She knows what he did is about as wrong and awful as it can get, but he was still the love of her life, and to Val, Nick was truly a good person underneath what he did. To Val, Nick wasn’t defined by the shooting, but by their life together. And that makes sense to me too – you can’t just stop loving someone because they do a terrible thing. When you love someone that much, it is inside you, it consumes you, and even though you can look at their actions from a critical point of view and understand how terrible they acted, you cannot just turn your love off.
It was so upsetting to me to read about how Val’s parents and former friends treated her. I get that they weren’t in her head like I was, they didn’t see her true thoughts and feelings, but they are her parents, for goodness sakes. It broke my heart how cruel and heartless her father was towards her after the shooting. He didn’t even want to hear what she had to say, he just decided she was guilty and treated her as such. Her mother wasn’t as bad, but she had such a tight leash on Val it was as if she decided she was guilty too. Neither of them really wanted to listen to their daughter, to try and understand the pain she must be feeling. Again, these aspects to the story were painfully realistic as well. Everything about Hate List, while it broke my heart and made me cry several times over, was so unbelievably well-written and true to these characters and this situation, including Val’s parents.
Can you tell how much I loved this book? I truly thought it was an amazing novel, and I can’t recommend it enough. While it deals with an extremely painful and difficult subject, it’s really not all that gritty or dark. It actually ends up being very hopeful in the end. And I know you’ll fall in love with Valerie just like I did. Everything about Hate List was just perfect.