I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Violent Ends by Shaun David Hutchinson, Neal Shusterman, Brendan Shusterman, Beth Revis, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Courtney Summers, Kendare Blake, Delilah S. Dawson, Steve Brezenoff, Tom Leveen, Hannah Moskowitz, Blythe Woolston, Trish Doller, Mindi Scott, Margie Gelbwasser, Christine Johnson, E. M. Kokie, Elisa Nader
Also by this author: The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza, Sadie
Published by Simon Pulse on September 1st 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Depression & Mental Illness, Social Issues, Tough Topics, Young Adult
Pages: 352 •Format: ARC •Source: ALA
It took only twenty-two minutes for Kirby Matheson to exit his car, march onto school grounds, enter the gymnasium, and open fire, killing six and injuring five others.
But this isn't a story about the shooting itself. This isn't about recounting that one unforgettable day.
This is about Kirby and how one boy—who had friends, enjoyed reading, played saxophone in the band, and had never been in trouble before—became a monster capable of entering his school with a loaded gun and firing on his classmates.
Each chapter is told from a different victim's viewpoint, giving insight into who Kirby was and who he'd become. Some are sweet, some are dark; some are seemingly unrelated, about fights or first kisses or late-night parties.
This is a book of perspectives—with one character and one event drawing them all together—from the minds of some of YA's most recognizable names.
When I was at ALA this summer, I was pitched this book by an editor at Simon & Schuster when I asked specifically for heavier contemporary recommendations. The editor had worked on the collection himself and was SO excited about it, and it’s one of those instances in which I’m seriously glad that I asked for recommendations because it may not have been a title I would have picked up myself. I’m so glad that I spoke with that editor at ALA because this book is so intense and so bold in what it does: it doesn’t essentialize the story of the shooting into a single monstrous act and serve as a morality tale. Rather, it aims to examine the various contributing factors, events, and relationships that could drive someone to such a desperate act, and, as stated in the preface of the book, to get a better understanding of all the people who could potentially grow to be a person capable of such acts of violence.
Told from 17 points of view from 17 YA authors, Violent Ends explores a school shooting from peripheral perspectives of the shooter’s classmates, neighbors, teachers and more. The short stories range in length and levity, with some chapters seeming surface level, featuring classmates who only caught a glance of Kirby the morning of the tragedy and were touched by grief only through the grief of others, and others featuring victims who met their demise at the end of the barrel of his gun. While the writing style and quality did vary across the short stories, the book did an incredible job painting a multifaceted picture of Kirby Matheson. Some perspectives had me repulsed by the bullying and cruelty he was capable of, others had me empathetic to the cruelty he suffered at the hands of others, and still others made me undeniably like him for the noble and caring gestures he did for those who he truly considered friends. It makes it impossible to paint him wholly as evil, but it also makes it impossible to excuse his behavior.
This anthology forces the reader to confront the idea that there are too many variables in life for one person’s actions to be defined by a single news story or adjective. This book is incredibly important because it depicts that there are so many actions that humans participate in every day (loving, hating, bullying, rejecting, accepting, etc.) that may seem inconsequential at the time but how such actions can build up a person, or tear them down to their darkest motivations. It demands accountability out of the characters, including Kirby. It doesn’t absolve characters of their actions, but forces them to think about them in the wake of a tragedy, once it’s already too late. It pushes the boundaries of themes such as violence and assault and hatred in the YA genre, but do to that it can also facilitate a dialogue about such issues, too.
While this book is a solid five stars for me due to its overall content and what it sets out to do, the stories do vary in quality. Some were hard to read but powerful in their message, while others seemed disorganized and wouldn’t have impacted the anthology had they not been included. Some that were particularly powerful were “Survival Instinct” by Tom Leveen, “The Greenest Grass” by Delilah S. Dawson, Feet First by Margie Gelbwasser, and “Hypothetical Time Travel” by Mindi Scott. I think this anthology has different stories that will resonate with different readers, but I’m confident there will be at least one that will get under your skin and make you think about grief, about death, about circumstance, and about the different types of evil in the world.
Overall: Violent Ends takes an unorthodox approach to a school shooting, in that it doesn’t portray the shooter solely as a monster. Through short stories by seventeen different authors, it examines the circumstances that drive people to such devastatingly chaotic choices in life, and examines the fallout for many different types of characters, from direct victims to those who stayed home sick that fateful day. Some stories are uncomfortable to read, some will make you angry, or confused, or undeniably empathetic. This book seeks to look at tragedy in a way that paints a fuller picture of the perpetrator and how things may have been different, rather than using scare tactics to try to suppress a copycat crime. With school shootings happening more often, and attracting more and more of the wrong kind of media attention each time, I think this book is incredibly important to help readers, especially teenagers and young adults, examine what such a tragedy means to different people on different levels, and how important perspective can be.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Goodreads Challenge