Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Publisher: Source Books Fire
Release date: January 5, 2015
Synopsis from Goodreads:
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.
The auditorium doors won't open.
Someone starts shooting.
Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.
As a teacher, the idea of a school shooting is terrifying, but I would be lying if I said that it is something I think about on a daily basis. It is one of those fears that sits in a dark corner of my mind...a fear that doesn’t present itself until I hear of yet another shooting or read a story like this one. This is a book that I picked up not because I thought I would enjoy it, but because I was hoping for some insight into the mind of someone who would do something so horrific. Or to understand what the victims of this kind of tragedy would feel as it was happening. This book does an ok job on the latter, but doesn’t even come close to touching the former. I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy this book as it would be a hard sell to make this subject matter enjoyable...but it also didn’t come close to doing what I wanted it to.
This entire book takes place under an hour on the morning of the event. On the first day back to school after winter break, almost all students of Opportunity High School have gathered in the auditorium to hear the same speech the principal gives every year. When the bell rings for students to go to their first period class, they realize that all exits have been locked and there is no way out of the auditorium...and then the shooting starts. The shooter, a boy named Tyler, is a boy who dropped out at the end of his junior year, but who was scheduled to resume his senior year that day. Through the flashbacks of the characters we hear from, we learn that Tyler is a bit of an outcast who is disliked by most of his classmates. On top of that, his mom died recently in a car crash, and his father is an abusive alcoholic. We never hear from Tyler, himself, however. Who we do hear from are the following characters:
- Autumn who is Tyler’s sister. Her dream is to follow the footsteps of their deceased mother and become a famous dancer. She has an audition scheduled for Julliard and is doing everything she can to get out of their small Southern town. She withstands the brunt of their father’s abuse because he will do anything to stop her from becoming a dancer. She bears her brother’s scorn because she is gay.
- Sylvia is Autumn’s girlfriend. Tyler believes that she is corrupting Autumn. He has taken his anger out on Sylvia in the most extreme way in the past, and she is terrified of him.
- Tomas is Sylvia’s brother. He is a bit of a trouble-maker and had skipped the assembly to break into the principal’s office during her speech with his friend. They hear the shots and are the first to alert the police and start a plan to rescue their trapped classmates.
- Claire is Tyler’s ex-girlfriend. She and the other members of the varsity track team were on the track for an extended morning practice when they, too, hear the first shots and spring into action.
This book could have been an important look at a horrific tragedy, but I ended up some issues with it.
- The first is that Tyler is so one-dimensional. He is one of the flattest villains I have ever read and is just evil--which may work in certain stories, but does not work at all in a story about a school shooting. There is no humanity. I didn’t understand his motives and wished there would have been more insight into WHY he would do something like this. Even if the author continued with the choice to not show his POV, there could have been a way to give him some complexity. Nobody is ALL good or ALL bad.
- In an attempt to give the main characters character development, there are almost constant flashbacks: of Autumn’s and Tyler’s relationship, or Autumn’s and Sylvia’s, of Sylvia’s and Tomas’. Even with these flashbacks, the characters felt flat and I didn’t really connect with any of them (I mean I didn’t want them to die, obviously, but my heart wasn’t, like, bleeding for them either).
- Even though this is a relatively slim book (clocking in at 292 pages), the second half drags considerably. I found myself all but skimming the flashbacks in the last 50 pages or so to get to the action of the present. I felt more of the story--the flashbacks especially--could have been shaven down to keep the action tauter.
- The way it ended made me particularly unhappy (not the epilogue...which I liked).
What I did like about it…
- It was a relatively quick story. I started reading this about a month ago, but then started from the beginning earlier this week and read it in two days.
- The epilogue was touching.
Overall, it was always going to be hard for this book to be an enjoyable one for me, but I was still hoping for something that was insightful in a way that this one just wasn’t. I know that some of my friends found this book touching and important, so take this with a grain of salt, but I was just hoping for something more from this book and found myself disappointed when it didn’t deliver.
*I received an early copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*