Monday, September 13, 2010

Hate List-- Jennifer Brown

I've been sitting here with my fingers hovering over the keyboard, wondering where to start.  I was so moved by Jennifer Brown's debut novel Hate List, I can't even sort out my emotions. This book evokes a wide spectrum of feelings from hate to fear to sorrow all the while drawing the reader into a realm of reality we all hope we never have to truly experience.

Valerie Leftman is about to start her Senior year at Gavin High School. But this year will be different from any other since she was the girlfriend of Nick Levil, the guy who shot up the school, killing many of his classmates before shooting himself. It was all because of the Hate List, a list that she helped create.

You know you've said it.  "I hate this homework assignment." "Mrs. So-n-so sucks." or "I'll kill him for breaking my ipod." Those kinds of things were on the hate list, but it was more than that. There were names.  Names of people Val and Nick hated for tormenting them at school.

 Punches in the chest when no one was looking. Nicknames like "Sister Death." They were constantly bombarded with an array of teasing, and their only way to deal was to make the hate list. But Val wouldn't have done anything about it. Writing it down was enough for her.  And she was just as shocked as everyone else when Nick open fired on the commons. But no one will ever believe that. Just like they wouldn't believe that Nick wasn't really the monster the papers made him out to be.  He was kind, and protective, and he loved Shakespeare, but no one would know that because they were too busy harassing him.

Unfortunately, Val can't change the past and now she has to face the same people day in and day out, and despite what the reporter, Angela Dash says, the shooting hasn't changed anything.  Kids still hate each other. Fear still resides in the hallways. She's still ostracized. But maybe through the help of her psychiatrist, Val can figure out how to deal with her upside down life.  And maybe, just maybe she can learn to trust people again.

A school shooting would be anyone's worst nightmare. As a former teacher, I know what the schools are like.  I know how cruel some kids can be to other kids. But how can we expect different from our children when we adults don't do any better? How can we teach our children not to hate when our own lives are saturated in anger? Until we can learn to forgive those who have wronged us and show our children that hatred only destroys, there is no hope for them. Until we learn to treat others who are different from us with respect, we can't expect our children to do the same.  I know it's hard, especially when ignorance abounds and people make choices based on their feelings. I know it's hard when someone offends you or your beliefs. I know it's hard when people choose wrong believing whole heartedly they are right, (Yes, there is a right and wrong no matter what some may say.) So how can we go about making this world safe for our children?

The answer is in ourselves.  We need to search our hearts and rid them of malice, hatred, anger, greed, jealously.  We need to replace that with love and forgiveness. Only then will we not only be able to tell our children to be kind to those who are different, but we'll be able to show them how it's done.  What better lesson can we teach our kids than living that kind of life?

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