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 will definitely be a very controversial book, the love-it-or-hate-it kind, both because of the theme it deals with and the way it is developed. I’ll admit, the fact that it talks about school shootings was one of the main reasons I wanted to read this book. Now, I don’t live in the USA, so I certainly don’t have the same kind of emotional connection to this topic as people who feel these happenings as being closer to their daily reality, but I have often wondered what drives someone to commit an act such as these. I hoped that this book would help me get more into the mind of the shooter, understand his motive and his psychology and I’m sorry to say that in this respect it fell short.
The book is told in alternating POVs of four different characters, all of whom have some connection to the shooter. While this was very confusing at first, I did manage to get all the characters and the relationships straight in my head eventually. Once I did, I definitely managed to be swept up in the story and I absolutely developed a very strong emotional connection with most of the characters. I may or may not have cried a lot little during a couple of scenes, which only ever happens to me when I feel extremely close to the characters. As far as development goes, it was fairly limited, but I guess that’s a consequence of having many different POVs in such a short book: the actual development time that the author can possibly devote to developing a single character is limited by the book’s very nature. Although I am usually a stickler for character development, they did work well for this book even if at times they felt slightly too one-dimensional. The fast-paced plot and the timing of the story (the whole plot takes place during 54 minutes) made it feel natural for limited change to occur to the characters, and it is made clear in the epilogue that none of the survivors is left unscathed by the events.
What I did miss was seeing the world directly through the shooter’s eyes. While there is a lot of backstory, and the shooter himself gives some kind of reason for his actions when questioned by those who know him, I would have liked to get into his head. I think one of the most difficult things to accept when tragic events, such as a school shooting, happen is the why. What brings one kid to get a gun and shoot his teachers and his classmates? What goes on in his head while he’s doing it? Why can no one get him to stop? These are all the questions that were in my head as I was reading, and sometimes it just felt like the answer I was given wasn’t good enough. It’s all very well saying you want revenge, but why try to kill everyone? How was the shooter justifying this to himself? I didn’t really get an answer in the book, and it just felt like a missed opportunity to bring something new to the discussion. By having the shooter talk to the victims about his motivation, it is all filtered by the victim’s own emotions and relationship with him, and it lacks authenticity.
That being said, this was still a real page-turner and a book that I think will stay with me for a very long time. There are some fairly disturbing scenes that may upset the most sensible readers, so please keep that in mind if you do decide to read this. I loved how the author incorporated a truly diverse cast (there are LGBT main characters, minority characters, disability…) and how she tried to incorporate more than one theme, dealing at the same time with abusive families, illness and even rape. My only complaint is that (again probably because of the total length of the book) some of these themes weren’t really developed very much, when it would have been a lot better to maybe have one less but fleshed out in more detail.
Still, this was a truly compelling read. This Is Where It Ends is a true “punch-in-the-stomach” read, that delivers heartbreak and love, cruelty and humanity, tragedy and hope all together in a conveniently-packed under-300-pages bundle.