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Youth and Other FictionsFrom Goodreads:

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.

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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.

3 stars

I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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18372527From Goodreads: Adam Upton and Thomas “Lee” Harvey are plotting the next big school massacre at their New Hampshire high school. Nicole Janicek, who knew Adam in elementary school, tries to reconnect with the damaged teen at the start of their senior year. But will Nicole’s attempt to befriend the would-be killer disrupt the plot and turn Adam’s life around before the clock strikes 12:14?

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This didactic novel touches on a very sensitive subject, but the message falls a little bit short for me on a personal level. From the character interactions and language that seems forced and unreal, to the attempt of the main character to “save” a young man based on a dream, I had some issues with the text.

Perhaps my biggest issue with this plot line is the fact that most of what the MC does throughout this novel goes against all the mandates and attempts to prevent mass shootings at schools, but it doesn’t stop there. Yes, Nicole has a dream that Adam Upton is going to shoot up her school, and she isn’t sure that she believes it to be true; it’s a dream after all. Trying to get to know him is a plus, and in this aspect, she’s doing the right thing. My issue then rises when she’s sure Adam’s planning the attack. Instead of going to the police (who would take an accusation like this serious, regardless of what the Nicole and her friend Candace think–the police don’t laugh this kind of thing off), she continually tries to make Adam change… but she only has about two weeks to do so. Therefore, it isn’t very likely. To top this, the Nicole tells the guidance counselor enough about what’s happening that the counselor has a very good inkling of the threat. She does nothing. Candace says something to both the guidance counselor and the principal, but neither do anything to question her fears, rather writing it off to fear of the unlikely, even when the evidence and threat is staring them in the face. The main character’s mother knows about the dream, and she knows of the extremely high risk that a shooting may indeed occur after certain events happen, but even she doesn’t do anything or say anything either, even though she, Candace, and the Nicole know that a certain event in the novel was in fact a very real test run. Yet, no one does anything.

Having worked in the educational system for a long time, this is not a factual representation of what would happen in this day and age based on my experiences in the classroom. The fact that no adult steps up with the information they have also paints a sort of picture for those teens reading it that promotes the undertone that adults won’t do the right thing, and therefore, teens should attempt to take on the burden of preventing an atrocity such as a school shooting all on their own. This is not a message they should be taking away from this. The message should be to tell someone, and if that person doesn’t listen, then tell another, and another until something is done. Again, a threat against school children is not taken lightly, and whether or not one has physical evidence won’t stop authorities from doing a probe to assess the potential threat.

Likewise, there is an instance in the novel when fighting seems glorified, and Nicole and her mother thank Candace for standing up for Nicole.  My issue here is that it’s done through fist fighting.  And, while a one day suspension does ensue, there is nothing else that shows readers that physical violence is not the answer.  Instead, Candace is allowed to eat a celebratory dinner at Nicole’s the same day as her suspension, and to be quite honest, a day off of school isn’t really going to teach anyone anything.  But, that’s a whole other can of worms.  Although perhaps unintentional, as a reader of YA fiction, and a teacher of young adults, I’m again afraid of the message potential readers might take away from this novel.

The beginning of the novel was a little jarring for me as I read because of Nicole’s dream, which I wasn’t expecting. I guess I was expecting a more realistic reason behind why Nicole begins to suspect Adam, but regardless, it works to get the point across and puts Nicole on the right path for prevention. Unfortunately, I do believe she goes about it the wrong way. There is no harm in befriending anyone, and the didactic nature of the story concerning friendships and reaching out to everyone, stopping hate and bullying, is a great one; I have no issue there. It is instead what happens once Nicole’s suspicions are confirmed, which happens much sooner than she admits to herself.

Nicole also seems extremely older than she is supposed to be in the novel. At 17, she is overly mature, and while I’ve met many teens that are mature for their age, it’s the way the characters, especially Nicole, talk in the story that made it less than believable. There is a lack of contractions within the dialogue, and regardless of maturity, everyone uses contractions in their speech, so the dialogue itself was a bit jarring on many an occasion.

I read much of this story mentally yelling at the characters as they all seem to make bad decision after bad decision, but regardless, this novel still made me cry throughout much of the ending, so have a box of tissues ready. Even though I don’t agree with many of the character choices and actions in the novel, and many of them are unrealistic, this novel is still powerful. I love the end message about people reaching out and being able to change, but I do think there should be more of a stress on telling others when we suspect others of committing crimes. The last thing I want is a reader walking away from this novel thinking the only way to handle something like this is through attempted friendship and keeping quiet in hopes their new friend might change their mind about murdering a flock of innocent children. Two stars.

2 starsJohn Cullen has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read this novel, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.



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