So you ever find a book that looks so good and sounds so interesting that you have to have it; you buy it and then immediately read it and by the end you’re left feeling so disappointed that you wish you would have never bothered buying it in the first place? This book is exactly that for me sadly. Being that this book discusses a very real and sensitive topic, I wanted it to be a harrowing and raw account of survival told from the perspective of very different characters but instead I ended the book just feeling disappointed and feeling like the book made no statement about the topic it was handling, which is a school shooting.
The novel takes place during fifty-four minutes from the perspective of four different students as their school is being shot-up by a prior student, Tyler. Tyler takes advantage of a presentation by the principal that is going on in the auditorium, and chains the doors locked from the outside so that nobody can get out and then enters the auditorium and starts shooting. The whole event is explained by four different perspectives. One of the perspectives comes from Autumn, Tyler’s sister, who had grown apart from her brother who had once been so compassionate and supportive towards her; but after their mother’s death, Tyler changed, as did their father who began drinking again and took his frustration out on both of his children. The next perspective comes from Sylvia, Autumn’s girlfriend, who fears graduation because it means her Autumn will be leaving her to get the hell out of town as quickly as possible, she also has to deal with her mother who has been losing herself for a while, due to illness. The next perspective comes from Tomas, Sylvia’s brother, who is kind of a jokester and constantly getting himself in trouble with his best friend Fareed, Tomas and Fareed are actually not in the auditorium, but breaking into the principal’s office when they start to hear the shots firing, and they become determined to save as many people in the auditorium as they can, especially Sylvia. The final perspective is from Claire, Tyler’s ex-girlfriend, who is also not in the auditorium at the time of the shooting but practicing with the track team when they hear the shots fire. The group then does what they can to try to get help to the school, especially so she can save her younger brother who is in the auditorium.
Sounds interesting right? It had such promise but fell so flat. So let’s start with character development. We’ll start with the four characters who’s perspective we hear throughout the book. First of all, the tone remained the same throughout the novel so at times it was difficult to distinguish between characters, in fact there were times where I forgot which character’s perspective I was reading because they all just felt the same. Autumn was someone you were meant to feel sorry for, her mother died, she’s being abused by her father, she wants so desperately to get into Julliard and out of town, and now her brother is shooting her classmates and teachers. But I felt myself feeling nothing for her throughout the entire novel, it was like she was meant to be a victim but there was no development to make her be just that. There are flashbacks throughout the story for each character, but they don’t flow seamlessly like one would hope, and they don’t tell you anything about the character other then events that occurred, there’s no depth there. Sylvia is also someone you were meant to feel sorry for, her mother is very ill and slowly dying, and she knows she’s going to be stuck staying in Opportunity to take care of her instead of going to her dream school, Brown University, and she’s going to lose her girlfriend, who’s planning on getting out of town as quickly as possible; plus Sylvia is hiding a dark secret about Tyler. But again there’s little in terms of depth when it comes to her development and although she’s slightly more likeable then Autumn, I still don’t really feel anything for her. Tomas, for me was the most frustrating character, because there was hardly any back story for him, and all you got from him was the occasional poorly timed joke. I think he was meant to add lightness in the darkness of the book, but the book failed to be dark, and so his comments just feeling poorly timed and out of place in the novel. The final character Claire, was slightly developed but even she fell flat to me, there was hardly any back story with her and I just couldn’t bring myself to feel sorry for her. In fact the only character I felt sorry for was her brother, who’s ill and stuck all alone in the auditorium with the person that she dumped. Literally in a book full of people who die and are in danger, I only cared about one person, and it was more probably because he reminded me of someone I know more-so then any development of his character, because the most you really find out about him is that he’s sick with lupus.
The final character I want to talk about is Tyler, who had no development throughout the story at all, and the only real excuse that was given for him was he was bad. Before his mother died, Tyler is described as a good person, loving, and compassionate, and then his mother died, and suddenly his personality changed and he convinced his father to beat his sister, scarred Sylvia in a way that she’ll never heal from, and became just an all around bad guy. But that’s not real life, people don’t just suddenly lose someone and then become abusive and homicidal. There is literally no depth when it comes to his motive, he’s just bad and we’re supposed to accept that, but I don’t. In real life, when students have gone into schools with weapons and killed fellow students, it is later revealed the person had been bullied and harassed for years, that they had tried to get help but no one would help them, not that that excuses their actions in anyway but there’s normally a collection of reasons that lead them to breaking and doing what they do, and we’re never given that back story for Tyler. When it comes to his character, and the story in general, it is all so black and white and I feel like that is a disgrace to the topic at hand, because the situation itself is so much more then that.
I felt like, for a book about something as serious as a school shooting, it should have made some sort of statement and it didn’t. In fact, one thing that really annoyed me, was the author, herself, wrote a blurb on good reads where she said she was excited about the main queer girl romance between Autumn and Sylvia, but if you want to write a book about a queer romance, write a book about a queer romance, don’t write a book about a topic so serious and try to incorporate romance within it (which to me, the relationship felt very kind of one-sided, with Sylvia caring way more then Autumn, who didn’t want to be public about their relationship and who cared more about herself and dancing then Sylvia). To me the focus of the book should have been survival and developing the characters (ALL OF THEM) so that they’re not only sympathetic but also so you can have a more in depth story instead of something that feels so dull and rushed.
All-in-all, this is so far the most disappointing book I’ve read in 2016 and it was one I was hoping would be so good. I really just wanted to like this book and I’ve tried to see redeeming qualities in it but I just can’t find enough to make me want to recommend the book or read it again.