Even though I made a vow, I found myself purchasing a new book – but, I believe that this purchase was justified. My brother and I were both interested in this book so I decided – being the generous older sister that I am – that I would purchase the book for both of us to read.
I know that we are told to never, ever judge a book by its cover. It is one of the cardinal rules of being an English major, but I have to admit that I judged this book by the cover, initially. Please forgive me my fellow brethren!
I was most intrigued by the novel’s premise: the story would be told through the perspective of four students during a school shooting. When beginning the novel, I immediately noticed that it was time-stamped – each perspective that was told was meant to be read as occurring simultaneously.
While this was promising, the characters seemed to fall flat, and although we were offered various perspectives, we were never given the chance to understand Tyler’s, the shooter’s, perspective. The characters were unfortunately very cliché and for some reason, Nijkamp thought that romance would aid in character development.
Yes, for some reason, even though I was reading a novel on school shooting, it often felt like I was reading a YA romance novel, and that itself was rather unsettling.
From the beginning, you already know that Tyler will be “the boy with the gun,” from the constant foreshadowing, yet you do not know how all the characters are related. As the story unravels, it is revealed that Claire, Autumn, Slyv, and Tomás have unknowingly triggered this tragedy.
Autumn, Tyler’s sister, dreams of moving away and becoming a dancer in honor of their deceased mother. Their father is a raging and abusive alcoholic who beats Autumn constantly. Tyler became Autumn’s protector, yet he began to grow jealous of her friendship with Slyv – he becomes enraged when he finds out that the two girls are dating. This causes him to constantly harass and assault Slyv, leading to an incident at their junior prom. When Claire finds out about Tyler forcing Slyv against the wall and kissing her, she breaks up with him. Although Tomás, Slyv’s twin brother, does not know the exact details on the incident, he punches Tyler in the face the next morning. Following this, Tyler drops out of school.
What bothers me with this plot is the character of Tyler. Through the different narrations, it is evident that each character is troubled in their own way yet Tyler seems menacing from the beginning. When he holds the students in the auditorium hostage, his monologue seems to derive from the speech of a cartoon villain. He had no depth – he was just bad. It pains me to use the term “bad” because there are so many synonyms that are more descriptive, but for Tyler, this word is most fitting. He seemed to promoting that these instances cannot be avoided, that the “boy with the gun” is inevitable because as the story shows, there are so many other kids with problems who do not become this. Yes, I am aware that several factors lead someone to make such a horrific decision, but the novel just seemed to trivialize it.
This was most prominent through the love story of Claire and Chris, as well as Slyv and Autumn. Claire and Chris were practicing on the track field when they heard the shots inside the school, allowing for them to seek for help while also allowing them to have a romance develop. While her brother is trapped inside of the auditorium, Claire and Chris kiss – I understand finding solace in others during times of crisis, but I do not think that such a setting should warrant giddiness with your crush.Similarly, the whole shooting was because of Autumn and Slyv’s relationship, this is not an inference, Tyler says this.
Due to all of this, the novel felt like more of a YA Thriller/Romance, and I certainly do not believe that is how Nijkamp meant for it to be read. That being said, the writing style allowed for fluid reading and I found myself unable to put the book down. This is what lead me with an initial mixed reaction after completing the book, but my ultimate rating chalked up to:
Favorite Quote: “There is no way to express how a heart can burst and break at the same time, how the sun can cut through the darkness but will cast shadows everywhere.”
(The quote seemed to summarize the entire novel – in terms of the plot, as well as how it had so much potential that it often failed to reach).