What’s It All About Then?
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.
The auditorium doors won’t open.
Someone starts shooting.
Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.
Why Should I Read This?
There’s nothing quite as unsettling as lock down drills. For those who might not know what those are, they are practice sessions held in every school that simulate what would happen if the school was in a position that everyone would need to be “locked down” – that is, kept behind locked doors and silent. While staff are always told not to aggravate the situation by discussing the possibility of gun violence, students are all-too aware of the dangers from the outside that might enter the school. What’s even more terrifying for them is the idea that the danger may already be within their own classroom.
It’s the normalcy of the events at the beginning of the book that is most startling. Life at Opportunity High School is going as it should – attending classes, heading to assembly to hear the Principal, hanging out with friends – when things change on a dime.It only takes a moment – and a short burst of gunfire – to halt everyone in their tracks, and to chance the course of every student’s life.
The multi-perspective narrative is important for understanding what is really happening, as each person has a particular connection to the shooter. It’s through their eyes that we begin to unravel the mystery of Tyler, the shooter, and how he came to be standing with a gun at the entrance of the auditorium. Tyler’s words are chilling, not just due to their simplicity but also because we know students who could quite easily feel the same way. “To survive, you must know who your friends are. You must know who you can trust. And you must know how to stop caring.”
Bursts of social media add to the urgency of the narrative. Trapped students give updates and beg for rescue, while outside friends plead with others to respond. A daughter honours her teacher father while the intrusive nature of the media cuts through like a whip. I appreciated that the author did not have everyone in the auditorium for the story; just as in real life, there are students awaiting the return of the Principal, while others are practicing with sports teams, and they are the ones left paralyzed with fear, wanting to help as much as they want to save themselves.
I found it fascinating that some readers disliked Tyler as a character because they found him too ‘black and white’; I think they failed to recognize that this is the only way we generally know these shooters after the fact. It is the four narrators who give him depth and show that he was something more. The four voices become a chorus. Autumn is Tyler’s sister and Sylvia is Autumn’s best friend and new girlfriend. Claire is Tyler’s ex-girlfriend and Tomas is Sylvia’s twin. As time progresses, we see through flashbacks and memories that they have already been affected by Tyler as he gave into his anger and despair. He didn’t need a gun to change their lives as they had already been irrevocably changed by their time with him.
There isn’t a happy ending for this book. In this situation, there is no way that things work out ‘okay’. What I appreciated was that Nijkamp allowed the survivors – and by extension, the readers – to be affected by what had happened to them. If nothing else, this book will make you think. It will ask you to consider, “what if…” and “how would I…” and the results may be as unsettling as the story itself.
Give Me Some Quotes to Convince Me
“You can’t always keep your loved ones with you. You can’t always settle your life in one place. The world was made to change. But as long as you cherish the memories and make new ones along on the way, no matter where you are, you’ll always be at home.”
“I didn’t need to die for him to kill me.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Was that worth it?”
I eye the barrel, and I can almost feel Sylvia’s arms around me, see the look in her eyes whenever I made her laugh, whenever Autumn danced, whenever we were all together at the farm and Mamá was having one of her good days. I can’t protect her from every danger, but I can give her more days to love.
“Yes, it is so worth it.”
This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp will be published on January 20, 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire. It is available to order from Indigo, Kobo and your favourite indie bookseller. ISBN: 9781492622468, 292 pages.