This book came to my attention through a NetGalley email, which showcased a) the beautiful cover art, b) the intriguing plot and c) a limited time offer. Three things I’d be hard pressed to resist at the best of times, so when I clicked on the link, this book shot all the way up my to-read pile, and I had finished it within three days of getting my grubby little mitts on it.
I thought I had read lots of books about school shootings, but in actuality, I’ve only read three. Nonetheless, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all three of them (Nineteen Minutes, We Need To Talk About Kevin, and Hate List) so I was definitely looking forward to something gripping, affecting, and emotional. And boy, does this book have that in spades.
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.
This book was the first book I’ve read which actually tells the story of a school shooting as it happens, as opposed to dealing with the aftermath. It’s set, as the blurb says, over the course of just 54 minutes – less than an hour! – and told from four alternating perspectives – two outside the hall, and two inside.
I don’t want to say too much about the characters, because realising who they are over the course of the novel is part of the joy of it, but I will point out that they’re a diverse little bunch – gender mixed, queer, PoC – thumbs up for not having the same bland voices over and over. And that was something I really enjoyed about this book – the four narrators had four very distinct voices. Although they didn’t always speak in the same order, it was instantly clear who was narrating at any point of change, because the four characters were separate and notably so.
The book is split into chapters, short (like, four-minute) segments, which are then followed by tweets, blogposts, phone calls, or text messages about the shooting, from both inside and outside the hall. The time passing was so short, and so much seemed to happen, but this was, I suspect, a deliberate choice on the part of the author – it certainly created a sense of time slowing down for everyone involved, the terror and emotion really sinking in as the seconds inched past. Getting four different perspectives of the same four-minute segment would also, naturally, slow things down.
I’m not gonna lie, this book wasn’t always easy reading – the epilogue, in particular, choked me up. It even choked my sister up, and she’s made of much sterner stuff than me!
This is a really excellent book, though. Bits of it are maybe a little unbelievable – such as the epic run to the local store, and then being returned to the scene of the shooting – but perhaps that’s how things work in the States. I was willing to suspend disbelief to let myself get swept along in the story.
I was recommending this book before I had even finished it, because I was enjoying it so much, and will continue to do so in the future – it’s a really gripping, emotive, and at times harrowing read. As a genre, it ticked all the boxes for me, but it came out with talent in spades, and delivered everything it promised.
A few little niggly moments in there, but overall a really excellent book. Solid recommendation from me.