Goodreads synopsis: Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets. Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.
Hate List is a book about a girl in high school dealing with the tragedy of a school shooting and the fact that her boyfriend was the shooter. This is a really cool idea, and I was excited to read about it, but it was executed terribly. Firstly, the characters were flat and unbelievable. Jessica Campbell, for example, the sweet, preppy popular girl who bullies Valerie until the shooting and then suddenly wants to be friends with her. I will say that I was a lot more like Valerie in high school — disliked, isolated, teased — and I would not have gone within ten feet of that girl after her boyfriend killed people. And as a reader of this book, I understand that she was innocent, but as another student in that school, there’s no way I would have seen it like that. And Bea was another character that bothered me. Her dreamy, other-worldly art studio seemed so out of place. There was no explanation for her and her strangeness, which made her character feel cheap. I just really wasn’t buying her existence.
And of course, there’s the main character. Valerie is weird. Sure, she didn’t shoot anyone, but she’s weird, and I don’t feel any sympathy for her. She says things like, “Yeah, Nick talked about death a lot, but so what?” as if that’s not super weird. I think mostly she disgusts me because she still has sympathy for Nick, who was a murderer, and she wants us to feel sympathy for him too, which I just can’t do. And somehow the school still thought of him as a victim rather than a killer at the end, when they put his name on the memorial. (Side note: I wonder, if Nick hadn’t been white, would they still have seen him as a victim?) And Valerie is really creepy. Anyone who paints their nails “corpse-yellow” is not going to get any sympathy from me.
On a more physical level, I think Brown forgot to hire an editor. There were so many times I would read a sentence, or even a whole paragraph, and think to myself, “This added nothing to the story. It was just a waste of time and paper, and it should have been cut. This book probably should’ve been half its size. And some of the sentences were so repetitive and just bad. I even wrote down a few sentences as an example: “I nodded again, deciding that I was suddenly too tired to fight with her. Suddenly I decided it really didn’t matter what she thought.” Besides the fact that “suddenly” and “decided” are not necessary in either of those sentences, they are definitely not necessary in both of them, and definitely definitely not right in a row. I’m not giving this one star because I suppose I did manage to finish the book, but it was a tough call. I enjoyed reading it only because it taught me what not to do when writing a YA novel, and it gave me hope for my future in publishing books.