A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold #BookReview #Memoir

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Title: A Mother’s Reckoning
Author: Sue Klebold
Series: N/A
Format: Digital ARC, 296 pages
Publication Details: February 9th 2017 (reissue) by Ebury Publishing
Genre(s): Biography/ Memoir; True Crime
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review. 

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On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.


For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?


These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In”A Mother s Reckoning,” she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.


Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, “A Mother s Reckoning”is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time. And with fresh wounds from the recent Newtown and Charleston shootings, never has the need for understanding been more urgent.


“All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.”

 

Review

I was interested in this book because I remember when I first heard about the Columbine shooting – the first of many tragic school shootings to come (in America), in 1999.

I was of similar age as the shooters and in my penultimate year of high school. I was going through my goth phase (Goths 4eva IDST – LOL!) and was big fan of Marilyn Manson at the time. The media was singling the band out as the reason for the shootings. Because we all know how damaging rock music is to impressionable teens don’t we!? Sigh.

Even back then I knew that was a load of bull, however the media spotlight was infuriating but also seen as some sort of badge of honour. Of course that sounds ridiculous and callous now but being full of teenage angst – it was “cool” to be a Marilyn Manson fan for a while because of that.

This book is the account of Dylan(one of the shooters)’s mother Sue. It’s a really interesting look at parenthood, adolescence, mental illness and tragedy but I can’t say I enjoyed it.

The first 20% of A Mother’s Reckoning seems to solely aim at frantically proving how normal the Klebold family were; what such good, normal parents Sue and her husband Tom were and how they couldn’t possibly understand how their nice, normal son could have killed so many people. The idea of normal really annoyed me throughout this part of the book – Sue of all people should understand that there’s no such thing as normal.

The disquieting reality is that behind this heinous atrocity was an easygoing, shy, likeable young man who came from a ‘good home’. Tom and I were hands-on parents who limited the intake of television and sugary cereals.

This was made even more frustrating by the next 20% of the book where Sue goes from describing Dylan’s perfect childhood and the morals and discipline (a ‘normal’ amount of course) they imparted on him, to all the worrying behavioural signs they missed. One minute he was perfect, the next he was a teenager who had made some worrying life choices.

And the more ‘normal’ and good at parenting she was trying to prove to be, the more strange she sounded; the type of parent I’m glad I didn’t have. A control freak…

I thought of all the times I’d called the mom hosting a sleepover to find out what movie she was planning to show. More than once, I’d asked for a less violent selection.

Now, I’m certainly not one of those people who blame the parents for everything, but don’t write 100 pages with your hands in the air saying ‘look at what good parents we werewe couldn’t possibly have known…he showed no signs,…we couldn’t have done anything’ etc and then tell us the exact opposite. Argh!

I was also not happy about the conclusion Sue came to about Dylan’s actions being caused by ‘depression or some other brain illness’. It is perfectly possible that Dylan was depressed – aren’t most teenagers!? but depression does not a murderer make!

In this book Sue Klebold researches what she calls ‘brain illnesses’ (she doesn’t believe the term mental illness is as accurate) and suicide, especially in teenagers. It is researched well and I found it interesting but it just felt like she was trying lay blame on anyone but herself or her troubled son.. I can’t blame her for trying to find a reason for her son’s actions, but I think it was a very one-sided view.

For me there was a huge elephant in the room the whole way through this book. I think working in a prison has given me a little insight into criminal behaviour and how people tick. And the one thing that people never want to believe is that humans are capable of hideous things, without making them evil.

Every single one of us has the occasional evil thought but thankfully most of us wouldn’t dream of acting upon them. Lots of things prevent us from doing so. But something didn’t stop Dylan from that terrible act. In fact it sounds like instead of him having lots of reasons to not act on those thoughts – he had lots of reasons to go through with it. School is hard, adolescence is hard, and his circumstances sound worse than most. As one of the survivors said at the time ‘I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner’.

Klebold does make some insightful psychological points which – although few and far between-  did make this book worth reading for me.

The expertise with which desperate people can mask their true feelings and intentions is the far more important message.

It’s nothing groundbreaking but was interesting enough to keep me reading and thinking. This is definitely a book worth reading for those interested in psychology, especially criminal psychology, but despite the fact that this whole book is Sue pouring her heart out, I couldn’t relate to her because I didn’t believe that she completely believed what she was saying. I think there is a huge element of denial here, and that she wrote this story to rid herself of guilt.

I’m not saying she has anything to feel guilty about – who am I to make that judgement – nor am I saying that she doesn’t deserve empathy or closure, but I just felt like she is masking something in this book, which is strangely something that the victims’ friends and family have said from the beginning. Maybe that’s the only reason I’m so suspicious, but maybe not…

unicorn rating 3

 

 

 

Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

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Title: Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Series: N/A
Edition: Paperback, 359 pages
Publication Details: April 1st 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre(s): YA; Contemporary; LGBT
Disclosure? Nope, I bought it

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Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.

Review


So you know the other week when I said I’m over Contemporary YA and have had enough of traumatic school-days reads? I take it all back. This book made me take it all back and eat my words. The shame!

Oh this book, you guys.

I fell in love with it instantly and read it in two sittings. The story is set in El Paso, Texas, and narrated by Ari. Ari’s a loner and more troubled than he even lets himself acknowledge. He’s clever and funny, but he’s angry too. He’s angry that his dad won’t talk about the war that has affected him so badly. He’s a angry that his brother is in prison and that his family won’t tell him why. In fact they pretend he doesn’t exist at all.

Ari meets Dante, who offers to teach him how to swim. On paper they are complete opposites. Dante is effervescent and loved by everyone who meets him. He finds it easy to open up to people and talk about his feelings; everything Ari isn’t, and can’t do.

The two become inseparable during one summer, and together they try to make sense of the world.

I’m reluctant to say much more plot-wise but just know this: Aristotle and Dante is a beautifully written, heart-wrenching coming-of-age story that I know will stay with me for a long time. I’ll definitely be reading this again in the future.

I love the setting, I loved the relationship between Ari and his mum, and obviously the relationship between Ari and Dante…I just can’t even… have ALL THE UNICORNS. I need to get my hands on Alire Sáenz’s other books STAT!

unicorn rating

Me & Mr J by Rachel McIntyre

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Title: Me & Mr. J
Author: Rachel McIntyre
Series: N/A
Edition: Digital ARC
Publication Details: March 5th 2015 by Electric Monkey
Genre(s): Contemporary YA; Romance
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy from the publisher/author in exchange for an HONEST review.

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Fifteen-year-old Lara finds her soulmate. There’s just one problem – he’s her teacher. Lara’s life has changed radically since her father lost his job. As the eldest, Lara tries to keep upbeat, and the one outlet for all her problems is her diary where she can be open about how dire everything is at home, and worse, the fact that she’s being horrifically bullied at school.

And then a shining light comes out of the darkness – the new young and MALE teacher, Mr Jagger. The one person who takes Lara seriously and notices her potential. The one person who is kind to her. The one person who she falls madly and hopelessly in love with. The one person who cannot reciprocate her feelings … can he?

Review

This book confirms my suspicions that I’m just kinda over Contemporary YA. I don’t mean that to sound harsh on the book itself, it’s a perfectly good book, written well, but I’ve just had enough of traumatic school-days stories.

There would have been a time when I’d have lapped Me & Mr J up. It’s the story of Lara “titless” Titliss as she navigates her way through her final year of high school. She is bullied quite horribly and as the book goes on, the more horrific the bullying gets. The only person who makes school bearable for Lara is the new English Teacher, Mr Jagger.

Me and Mr. J is written in ‘diary entry’ style which is great in sense that we get to see Lara’s amazing ability to shrug off and rise above everything the bullies throw at her. But the downside for me was that the language was way too cringe-worthy at times. Don’t get me wrong, it was believable and represents how teenagers talk and think but that doesn’t make it any less annoying to read. There was a lot of eye-rolling and sighing from me.

Oh, Mr J. My life would be a desert of complete unbearability without you as my metaphorical oasis/ watering hole”

My heart was saying, Mr Jagger, you are the only decent thing in my life. I can’t stop thinking about you. If I didn’t have you, I’d probably kill myself”

I thought this book was going be about a sordid affair between a teacher and student but I found it mainly to be about bullying, and discovering who you are – which I’m sure a lot of people would enjoy – I just wasn’t in the mood for it.

I did enjoy seeing how the relationship between Lara and Mr J eventually developed, despite the obvious repercussions. I also thought Lara was a strong character who could certainly inspire teens who have had problems with bullying, regardless of her mistakes, but I was hoping for something more.

unicorn rating 2

Apple Tarts Vs Hope and Despair…

apple
Title: The Apple Tart of Hope
Author: Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Series: N/A
Edition: Hardcover, 272 pages
Published: June 5th 2014 by Orion
Genre(s): YA; Contemporary
Disclosure? Yep, I received a copy via the author/publisher in exchange for an HONEST review

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I found the beginning of this book rather odd which made it a little hard to get into, but it soon becomes apparent that that oddness is what makes The Apple Tart of Hope such a unique read.

It opens at a service being held for Oscar Dunleavy, who is presumed dead. The church is full; the atmosphere, strange. The narrative comes from Meg, who claims to be Oscar’s best friend, but another girl, one with golden hair, is called up to speak a few words about Oscar, as she is apparently his closest friend.

Throughout the book we are taken back to how it all began, switching between the perspectives of both Meg and Oscar. At the start, they are inseparable. They live next door to each other and their bedroom windows face each other so they can lean out and talk every night.

Life seems pretty good, everyone gets on with each other at school, and Oscar and Meg are well-loved. There is a whimsical sort of magic to Oscar. He’s an unusual character for a young boy. He’s kind and deeply thoughtful, and likes to solve people’s problems by baking them exquisite apple tarts.

But it’s not an ordinary apple tart. It’s the apple tart of hope. After you’ve taken a bite, the whole world will look almost completely different. Things will start to change and by the time you’ve had a whole slice, you’ll realise that everything is going to be OK.”

And then it all starts to go wrong. Meg is forced to move to New Zealand, and Paloma – the girl with the golden hair – moves into Meg’s house…

Oh man, this was a rollarcoaster. Once I got into it I couldn’t put it down. I needed to know how things had spiraled so out of control for Oscar and Meg. It really captured something special about being young, especially the perils of school days and friendship.

It’s hard to explain without giving the whole plot away, but I will say that at certain points in this book I was filled with so much hate for what happened to Oscar and Meg, and I knew then that this book was something special, not to mention how beautifully it’s written.

The man was a maze of wrinkles and his hands were dirty. Tears made shiny branch-like patterns on his cheeks.”

This was my first read of Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, and it definitely won’t be my last. I need to find her debut Back to Blackbrick, stat!

unicorn rating 4

Available now from Waterstones in hardback, or to pre-order in paperback (due 05/02/15).

Top Ten Tuesday #3: Books That Should Be Taught in Schools

toptentuesday
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish (Click the image to visit them). This week the theme is Top Ten Books that I think should be taught in schools.

Here are some of the books I think should be taught in schools and some of the themes they explore which made me pick them.

1. The Chronicles of Narnia: Faith/Hope/Good vs Evil/Responsibility
2. His Dark Materials: Questioning Religion/Introduces Fantasy in a ‘Real’ Way/Physics/Loyalty/Love
3. Speak: Sexual Abuse/Bullying/Everyone Has a Voice that Deserves to be Heard/Overcoming the Impossible
4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time: Autism/Humanity/Understanding Emotion
5. Peter Pan: Imagination/Independence/Love/Family Values
6. Will Grayson Will Grayson: LGBT/Acceptance/Friendship
7. Mudbound: Prejudice/Racism/Social Justice/Love
8. Stormbreaker: Makes boys want to read – that is reason enough!
9. Look into my Eyes: Girls Can be Spies Too – that is reason enough!
10. Noughts and Crosses: Prejudice & Racism in an Alternative Society/Dystopian Elements/Star-Crossed Lovers

Also, how about we read The Book Thief instead of Anne Franks’ Diary…no???