Jack: the lonely boy who hears a voice inside his head.
Jason: the stoic and cynical man who returns home in search of his lost childhood. J
amie: the pretty goth girl loved and hated by both.
Over the course of ten years, the children of Freedom will watch as their world burns itself to dust and ashes, first over a vicious school rampage and then over something far more insidious. In the world envisioned by Jonathan M. Cook, reason is a luxury, explanations are elusive, and desperation is absolute. Some stories never end. Some nightmares can never be escaped.
This novel is split into two parts: the “before” and “after.” It’s a very interesting way of dealing with a novel that involves a school shooting—whereas the beginning of the novel shadows that of Jack as he spirals downward, the second portion of the novel jumps ahead 10 years, following Jason, a young man returning to teach English at the very school he attended when the shooting occurred. This allows readers to gain the unique perspectives of both those leading up to the event and those still recovering from it years afterward.
Perhaps what I found most frustrating, but also rewarding, is the fact that Cook doesn’t give readers a specific reason for the violence that occurs on any account within his novel. No one aspect or person can be pinpointed for blame, which is, in reality, a truth I feel many people do not want to accept. Why do people do the things they do? The news constantly tries to pinpoint one specific reason, and I feel like it is our human nature to try and understand, to cast blame, but in reality there are so many factors that make up these nightmares that the finger pointing and blame game is speculative at best. Thus, Cook leaves readers with more or less an ambiguous look at the mindset of both Jack and Jason, which I admit frustrated me, but is probably more accurate in its portrayal of events than anything else.
Having escaped his hometown for a while, and reluctant to be back, Jason is roped into becoming the school spokesperson as the 10 year anniversary of the shooting comes upon the town. I found this fascinating, but as Jason tries to deal with his memories, his students, the faculty, and the people of the town, he begins to break down. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but I really zoned in on the antics of Jason as a teacher—perhaps because I am one myself—and I just couldn’t get over how terrible he really is at his job, morally speaking. Having witnessed illegal activities, I would expect him to report them right away—to intervene—to speak up—but instead, Jason begins to hide inside himself, pushing everyone away from him and, as faculty members begin to die and the blame game once again becomes the town’s favorite pastime, he begins to lose himself. While a very interesting look at the human psyche, my morals as a teacher made me quickly begin to lose any respect I had for Jason as the story unfolded. I think the point was that Jason was completely and utterly shaken to his core during the shooting; that it is an event he will never truly recover from, but as an adult in charge of children, I expected more out of him in this aspect.
I also found some aspects of the novel to be a little too predictable in terms of the current deaths plaguing the school, which is unfortunate, but could also be intentional as I feel Cook is more so interested in human nature and the psyche than a full on mystery novel. Overall, this is a well-written novel, but remains somewhat ambiguous on many fronts, especially with the ending, and there are a few grotesque events in the novel as well, aside from the mass shooting, so reader beware. Three stars.
I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.