Cover of Hate List. A black and white stylized drawing of a crying girl's face

About the Book

Title: Hate List
Published: 2009

Cover Story: Less is More
Drinking Buddy: If Only
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (graphic violence)
Talky Talk: Realistic Fiction (unfortunately)
Bonus Factors: Bullies, Got Your Back, That’s Going to Come Back to Haunt Me
Bromance Status: Life Goes On

Cover Story: Less is More

This is how YA covers should look. Not too busy, and yet powerful. So of course the new cover has giant teen faces:

Alternate Cover of Hate List, featuring giant teen faces

The Deal:

Valerie Leftman is one of those girls who will never fit in with the cool kids. She wears too much dark makeup, she listens to odd music, and hangs out with the freaks. But her life is okay, thanks to wonderful Nick, her boyfriend. The guy who gets her. The guy who understands her. The quiet, brooding guy who secretly reads Shakespeare and has a terrible home life. The boy she can unload with, talk about all the nasty, bullying jerks at school. In fact, they’ve put together a little list of everyone they can’t stand, from the cheerleaders to the irritating local newscasters. A ‘hate list’ if you will. Just blowing off steam.

Until the day Nick comes to school with a gun and begins taking out everyone on that list. Nick kills five students, a teacher, and wounds countless others, including Val, before taking his own life.

Val’s world is destroyed. Her boyfriend is dead, and the world sees him as a monster. What’s worse, the hate list has become a hit list, and she helped write it. Half the school thinks Val is a hero who stood in the way of the gunfire (which she did). The others think she was in on the plot and every bit as guilty as Nick. Her parents can’t stand to be around her, and she is wracked with guilt.

So where does she go from here? After she gets out of the psych ward, I mean.

Drinking Buddy: If Only

Two pints of beer cheersing

After the shooting, Val is abandoned by her friends, crucified by the press, suspected by the police, hated by the school administration, and viewed as a monster by her parents, especially her self-absorbed father. She’s a character I just wish I could hug and tell ‘It’s okay. It’s not your fault. You didn’t know. And it’s okay to mourn for the Nick you knew.’

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (graphic violence)

The actual shooting only takes up one chapter. This is not a high intensity, action-packed book. Most of this takes place inside Val’s head. And yet, this book left me more breathless than the explosions and boobies stories I cherish so.

Talky Talk: Realistic Fiction (unfortunately)

Yeah, we all know what happened this year. Or the other years. I don’t think any of us will ever forget. Val, like all the survivors, has the same questions. Why did he do it? Could I have stopped it? Why did I deserve to survive? Where do we go from here?

Hate List would be an excellent way to start a discussion about school violence. Except for during the actual shooting, Nick is portrayed as a really nice guy, someone whom Val dearly loves. Did he snap? Could he simply not take life anymore? Was there something to else? Jennifer Brown asks the deep questions here.

Bonus Factor: Bullies

A group of girls surround another girl by her locker and pick at her sweater with mean looks on their faces

There has been a lot of press about bullying lately, but for the most part, people still view the situation in terms of what they’ve seen on sitcoms: wedgies and stolen lunch money. Nick and Val, on the other hand, really suffer at the hands of people who they want to avoid at any cost. I was lucky enough to hear the author speak at the Missouri Association of School Librarians convention (she was accepting an award). She spoke of how she was bullied as a teen, and often felt that she had absolutely nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Jennifer Brown wrote a book. Not everyone is lucky enough to have an ending like that.

Bonus Factor: Got Your Back

Chandler and Joey from Friends hugging

Now Val is not totally abandoned. Her little brother Frankie, an 8th grader with girls and hair gel on his mind, still sees Val as his annoying older sister, a reality she needs. Dr. Hieler, Val’s psychiatrist, is the doctor any troubled teen wishes they could have. And there’s Bea, the older hippie art instructor who knows who Val is, but doesn’t treat her any differently.

Bonus Factor: That’s Going to Come Back to Haunt Me

Homer Simpson in Russian attire

When I was a kid, it was standard form to sing humorous songs about murdering teachers, and to fantasize about blowing up the school. Just meaningless talk, everybody did it. That was until Columbine. Suddenly, silly talk like that could get one in a lot of trouble.

Val thought the Hate List was nothing but an in joke between Nick and herself. A way for kids without power to fantasize. But when Nick does the horrible thing and the cops get a hold of the list, it’s anything but a joke.

I’ve had to warn more than one student to watch what he was joking about; I’m a mandated reporter and have to report any threats, even ones that are clearly silly. This book may serve as a reminder to be careful what you say, especially online.

Joy to the world, the school burned down…

Bromance Status: Life Goes On

Yeah. Can’t say I really want to relive this book again. It was rough. But you know what? So is life. I’m not glad it happened, but I’m a little bit stronger for it.

FTC Full Disclosure: Library book. I received no money for writing this.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.