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{October 6, 2019}   {Review} This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

From Goodreads: 10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting.

Told from four different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

__________________________________________________

Wow.

This novel, just, WOW.

This is Where it Ends is a very powerful read, a shocking, palpable read that takes place over the course of 54 terrifying minutes while a school is locked down by a student with a gun; every parent, student, and educator’s worst nightmare come to life.

The beginning of this novel is a little difficult to follow. There are four narrators and a few twitter feeds, and the text switches constantly between them, so until you have good grasp on who’s who, it’s a tad frustrating. But don’t give up. Please don’t give up. High school is made up of many individuals, and one narrator wouldn’t have done this story justice. Neither would have a third person omniscient narrator. This story has to be told from multiple perspectives, and it works, though perhaps difficult to follow in the beginning (and also something that I bet the audible would easily fix as it has multiple narrators). It’s definitely a book where you have to think and pay attention; this is no beach read, and in my opinion, Nijkamp tells this story exactly how it has to be told, through the lens of many.  Here’s a rundown of what you need to know to help keep them straight:

AUTUMN: High school senior bent on getting out of town by applying to Julliard and other dance schools. She is a talented dancer, and she wants so badly to be like her mother–who was a professional dancer before her death. Autumn is dating Sylv,  has one disapproving brother, Ty, and an abusive father who blames Autumn for her mother’s death, forbidding her to dance.

SYLV: High school junior trying to keep her head above water. Her mother is currently ill and doesn’t always recognize Sylv or her twin brother Tomas. She lives with Tomas and her mother on their grandfather’s farm, and her older siblings come back to help as often as they can. Sylv is dating Autumn and would do anything for her, including lying about their future and the threat that Ty poses to their relationship, in order to keep Autumn happy.

TOMAS: High school junior and self-proclaimed “bad boy.” He’d rather cut his classes and is often in trouble. Twin to Sylv, he would do anything for his sister, including fighting Ty over his bullying nature towards Sylv.

CLAIRE: High school senior. Track and field and JROTC student. Former girlfriend to Ty. Has an older sister, Trace, who is in the army and overseas serving, and a younger brother in 9th grade, Matt. He is on crutches and has a compromised immune system due to Lupus.

Four narrators. And they don’t all survive. As an educator, someone who has literally spent ten months of every year in school since the age of 5, this novel terrifies me. I’ve read a lot of reviews where people say that Nijkamp’s characters don’t wow them, that they don’t connect with them like they wanted to. That’s valid, to each their own, but from my point of view, I definitely connect with them. I have students just like Autumn, Sylv, Tomas, and Claire. I don’t know these kids in this novel, but I don’t have to. They are children, they are dealing with their own fallout of their lives while trying to stay sane in school; they are in pain, and now there is an active shooter picking off random students in an auditorium that he locked from the exterior, during a school-wide assembly. I feel for them, and their stories are poignant, all of their stories are poignant, even though some of the dialogue is awkward and perhaps not always how a high schooler would speak, or think. But regardless, our four vividly real narrators lead the way, allowing the reader to feel their abject horror and fear as the 54 minutes slowly, painstakingly tick by.

What’s the culminating factor for these four main characters? Ty. He’s the school shooter, and he’s here to be heard.

Tyler. What happened to Tyler to push him to this point? I think Nijkamp does a wonderful job showing the reader that this story is not just black and white. It doesn’t just have good characters and evil characters, though Ty’s final choice to murder is pure evil, and some of his other actions are as well. Through our four narrators, we learn about their pasts and how they intertwine with Ty, and we see him through their eyes are he began to break down, from his choices, yes, but also his abuse at the hands of his father, the sudden death of his mother, his fear of losing his sister… and he projects in the worst way possible, choosing to murder, for which there is absolutely no excuse. But psychologically speaking, there is no black and white here.

Nijkamp’s novel was published in early 2016, back when the mantra of “run and hide” during an active shooting was the advice we were given. But what do you do if you’re locked in the room with the shooter? I wish the school of Opportunity (yes, it’s a cliche name for a school), had have practiced ALICE. In 2018, my district began training educators in ALICE: Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate. It’s the run, hide, fight idea, which has been around for at least a decade if not longer, but not something that’s often taught in school, I mean, my district just started making ALICE training mandatory for teachers–it’s not something students are taught. Ty murders many in his 54 minute rampage; many of those murders happen in the locked auditorium, and as I was reading, I kept thinking, FIGHT. I wanted them to fight. I wanted them to take him down; yes people would have died, but I don’t believe as many would have died if the student body, or all the teachers on stage, had of reacted immediately. But then again, it’s so easy to tell people what they should have done when on the outside looking in. I just, I just cried.

This novel is unfortunately all too real in this day and age, and many people are lucky to not have to think, to really think about it, or connect to it, because it hasn’t happened to us, and for many of us, it won’t ever happen. But that doesn’t mean we should write it off. Yes, it’s awful that we have to be prepared for it, in any setting, not just school, in today’s climate. But I think that’s also why this novel is so incredibly powerful. Five stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley and SOURCEBOOKS Fire in exchange for an honest review.

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