readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Foundation's Innovations in Reading Prize. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy. All are welcome to "like" us on Facebook!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Featured Title: HATE LIST, by Jennifer Brown

Hate List is a book that dares you not to be drawn into it, and I'm pleased to report that I was most definitely NOT up for the challenge of ignoring this amazingly powerful story.

I bought Hate List on a whim after seeing it on the shelf in my local bookstore. The strong cover image of the original hardcover jacket called out to me, and after reading the flap copy, I knew the story would be right up my alley. Here's what "School Library Journal" had to say about it:

At the end of their junior year, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend pulls a gun in the Commons, leaving six students and a teacher dead and many others wounded. Valerie is hit by a bullet in the leg trying to stop him, just before he ends his own life. Until that point, Valerie had no idea that the "hate list" that she and Nick created would be used to target victims in a vengeful shooting spree. For her, the list of tormentors was a way to ease the pain of being bullied and an outlet against the constant fighting between her parents. Although the police investigation reveals that Valerie had nothing to do with the actual shootings, many people in her community, including her parents, have a hard time believing that she is not at fault, too. With the help of a patient and insightful therapist, Valerie bravely returns to school after the summer to face the challenges before her. This is a startling, powerful, and poignant account of the incidents leading up to, immediately following, and continuing through the teen's senior year of realization and recovery. Valerie is stronger than she knows—a beautifully drawn character who has suffered pain, guilt, and incredible stress as she heals from the shooting, the loss of a troubled boyfriend she deeply loved, and difficult family circumstances. Readers will snap this novel up.

I can attest to that - I raced home from the bookstore and finished the book in one night. Jennifer does an incredible job of making Valerie as complicated as she is sympathetic, and the pacing of book is airtight. We're so happy to have Jennifer here at the blog today! Here are her thoughts on this month's theme, "resilience:"

Resilience isn’t in and of itself anything terribly noble. We’re all born with the capacity for it. We all have an ability to shrug off the hurtful, to pick ourselves up off the floor after the tragic, to bounce back after the shock. It’s innate in humanity, I believe, to keep searching for the sun, even in the darkest times, much like a flower will do its best to grow away from a shadow if it can.

I don’t know if I always felt this way. I’m not sure if, at 13, 14, and 15 years old, I was resilient on purpose. I was bullied. Called names, picked on, humiliated. I was tripped in the cafeteria and laughed at when I fell. I was the subject of rumors and gossip, and the recipient of nasty late-night phone calls and threats. All of this at a time of personal struggle at home as well. God, it would’ve been so easy to not be resilient. So tempting! But easy or not, resiliency won out. I kept waking up in the morning and somehow shoring up enough courage to walk into those unfriendly school hallways and face another day. Resiliently.

Maybe down deep I knew that my story of resilience might be the story some other teen would need to hear someday in order to pick herself up off the cafeteria floor and just keep walking toward the sun. I don’t know. Probably it was just that innate thing going on.

But if I didn’t know then that my story of personal resilience had a purpose, I certainly know now. The fact that the main character of Hate List, Valerie, goes back to school to face her tormentors and her doubters—and yeah…herself—in an impossible, frightening, and at times threatening situation is no accident. Valerie needed to not only have resilience to get through her tragedy, but she needed to do something with it to make an improvement. She needed to show herself that she was capable, and that sometimes if you try hard enough things can get better—truly better!—and she needed to come out the other end of her tragedy whole and changed…and resilient with a purpose. Resilient so that others might be inspired to hang onto their resiliency tightly, and trust that it will get them through to the other side of their dark time.

What makes resilience noble isn’t that we have it; it’s what we do with it. If we just bounce back, but then flounder around being all bouncy and dithery, our resilience is wasted. If we pick ourselves up, only to fling ourselves back into ugliness time and again, our resilience has failed us. But if we crane our necks toward the sun…and then really see it when our faces are lit, really make an effort to use that sunlight to warm ourselves…well, then that’s where magnificence lies!

That’s where resiliency turns something that you just lived through to something that made you great.

Well said, Jennifer! In the wake of so many recent bullying incidents, the message of Hate List feels more resonant than ever. Hopefully those who've suffered through being the target of hate are able to move beyond resilience to a place of forgiveness, ultimately planting seeds for a more compassionate world.

If you haven't read Hate List, grab a copy of the recently-released paperback. Pretty new cover!

And in the meantime, let us know - has resilience ever helped you in the face of hate?


Mrs. DeRaps said...

The Chick Lit Book Club, of which I am the adviser, is reading this book for November. It's such a powerful story. I can't wait to have discussions over this book with the girls!

Micol Ostow said...

Ooh, what a great choice for a book club pick! You'll have to let us know how it goes.

Fiona said...

Sounds fascinating! Can't wait to check it out.

Micol Ostow said...

You should, Fiona! I think it's a title that's come up in our class.

Melissa Walker said...

I love this: "just keep walking toward the sun."

holly cupala said...

I love the line about the flower growing away from the shadow if it can. Yes, so true.

Lorie Ann Grover said...

Thank you, Jennifer. Your blog post is inspiring and spot on. We are all born with resilience. It is human nature. But to be resilient with a purpose is the key.

I love your charge, focus, and clarity. Thank you!

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