Blurb: 10:00 a.m.
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.
I don’t quite know how to begin this review. I finished the book one morning on my way in on the train, and it’s been sitting at the back of my mind as I mull it over and over. Mass shootings are enough that they’re commonplace in the news out of the US, where this is set, these days. What follows is always a conversation on gun control that seems to go nowhere, until the next shooting and the next conversation. What happens in the news next are reports of funerals and loved ones lost in grief trying to make sense of an insane act.
Sometimes, if there are survivors we may hear of what went on inside the shooting. This is where Marieke Nijkamp’s book goes – what happens inside a shooting?
Before starting, I didn’t quite understand how she would approach such a divisive and tragic story, with such huge impact on so many things, especially in her chosen setting – the US.
The solution in this case is to make her tale a love story – of different kinds.
There’s a love story of Sylv and Autumn, caught up in the centre of this madness. On the cusp of their freedom of Opportunity they’re targeted for reasons beyond their control. There’s a story of love lost between Claire waiting outside the school and the shooter himself, and this is also a story about the love of family. Of brothers and sisters, and fathers and daughters, and family love that can be beautiful and painful at the same time.
The shooter too, does what he does because of a warped sense of familial love, compounded by grief and the effects of being a social outcast. On the one hand, Marieke has given him personal (that have become twisted in his head) reasons for doing what he does, but I couldn’t help thinking there’s a madness to the character as well – the kind that makes people do inexplicable things.
This isn’t a story of happy endings because that’s what happens in real life.
Given that the book covers a span of 54 minutes, and various POVs, in the beginning I couldn’t quite connect to the story. POVs were switching too fast for me, and in the beginning some POVs dragged the pacing down. While all the POVs are an important view into helping you get a picture of the shooter, I did wonder less is more would have worked better here. Claire, for instance, is outside the action in the school and in the beginning her chapters, however short took away from the more interesting narrative. Later on, her presence makes sense though.
Marieke is the founder of DiversifYA and VP for We Need Diverse Books™, so her writing reflects her views. Her characters are well-rounded POC, caucasian, queer, jocks, and studious. Everyone has a part to play in this story and I would hope more authors follow suit.
But, in the end, even those distinctions don’t matter because underneath everything that makes these characters different, their parts in the different love stories in this book are all the same — they all love or hurt by those that should love them. They’re all the same.
This is one of those stories that won’t leave me in a hurry. It’s a sensitive topic for sure, but I hope you’ll give it a try. It’s worth it.
If you’ve read this, what did you think?