I recently took an overnight trip with my mom to a nearby city that has a Costco. While in the area, we visited Chapters. Oh Chapters, how I love you!! I aimlessly walked the stores beautiful aisles, checking out what’s new and interesting, and I found this on a display. I had no idea Armstrong had a new book out, so I got very excited and just had to grab it.
After we got home, I noticed a post on Armstrong’s Facebook page regarding the book. She has deliberately withheld actively promoting the novel, and with good reason. Armstrong’s latest teen novel looks at the aftermath of a school shooting. With school shootings happening seemingly weekly lately, Armstrong felt the need to explain how publication schedules work and how the novel’s ill-timed release was unintentional, as well as show respect to those affected. As a result, the novel seems to really only gets any attention by word of mouth.
Skye Gilchrest is a 16 year old girl who is reluctantly moving back to her home town, Riverside, where she has to face her past. 3 years prior, there was a school shooting that rocked the community, and her older brother Luka was one of the shooters. Luka never took a shot, never killed a single student, but police found him with a gun, and killed him on the spot. Within 48 hours of the shooting, Skye’s mom packed their place up and they fled. Skye had moved around a lot after the shooting, leaving the current city once people realized who she was. Family services got involved and felt it was within her best interest to move back to Riverside to live with her aunt.
Life back in Riverside is not easy. Things are different now. A new school has been built, complete with metal detectors at the door. Skye is trying to forget the terrible event, yet she is dogged by stares and whispers wherever she goes. She is not welcomed with open arms. People say she does not belong there, that it is disrespectful to the families of the victims for her to go to school there. A petition is started to have her removed from the school. People slip her notes saying she is unwanted, that she can’t be trusted, and that she should be sterilized so as to not spread the family “crazy” gene. People believe she had to know something about the shooting, if not directly involved, and they are afraid of her.
When the bullying turns violent, she seeks help from the vice principle, only to be told that she is just attention seeking. She has nowhere to turn. No one believes her except Jesse Bengali, a boy who used to be her best friend, but has not spoken to her since his brother died in the shooting.
I burned through this book in record speed. I have read virtually everything Armstrong has written, and I think this is my favourite out of her work. It is a tough line to walk when discussing a school shooting, and I think Armstrong does a beautiful job handling such a difficult topic with grace and respect. She really did a lot of research for this. She manages to illustrate the grief and pain of survivors and victims’ families, and the need to blame someone for such tragedies, making someone accountable. Having said that, we must remember the families of shooters often have no idea their family members are capable of such violence, and are grieving equally. They lost someone too in one form or another, and have to also shoulder feelings of shame, of guilt, and in some cases without the ability to bury their loved one. The blame does not belong on their shoulders and they should not be feared.
Armstrong really illustrated why I love YA novels so much. She masterfully takes on a difficult topic and makes it accessible to everyone. I loved the relationship between Jesse and Skye, and appreciated the light touch of romance, but sticking with the main topic. I appreciated the lack of gory detailed writing regarding the shooting itself. The novel really just talks around it, focusing on the aftermath of it all. There is a mystery in the book, and we all know how much I love mysteries. I did guess this one correctly, but I wasn’t upset about it. I just think I have read so much of her work that I know what to look for.
I really feel this is an important read. I think Armstrong really conveys the message of perspective, of grief and forgiveness. I do wish I knew the motive behind the shooting, the shooters “why”, but perhaps it’s best not to know. In real life there are always theories via the media, but do we ever really know the “why”? Does the “why” even make a difference?
I will leave you with my favourite quote from the book:
“Sometimes, showing compassion for others means doing things that are painful for us.”