I love it when novels with a difficult subject matter are narrated in a child’s voice. The innocent description makes a story less overwhelming and gives a unique perspective. The child’s voice can bring an element of tenderness, awe, and even humour to life’s most heartbreaking situations, exploring big emotions with simplicity and fresh insight. Examples you may know are The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Room by Emma Donoghue, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.
This book is especially poignant because the child has been largely abandoned by a grieving family when his older brother has died in a school shooting. Already a quiet introverted child, Zach retreats even further to try to cope with his memories of the shooting and the loss of his brother. When his parents remain absent and continue to struggle with grief in their own dysfunctional way, Zach’s courage, honesty, and integrity find a way to save his family from the darkness.
“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” C.S. Lewis
Tragedy can cause us either to become bitter or better. Scarlett Lewis lost her little boy Jesse in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. She made a choice early on in the midst of her grief to choose life and to forgive. Not everyone can muster that kind of courage. But if it can be found, and shared, it becomes a very powerful message indeed, spoken from the most extraordinary and unique platform.
Years ago, a friend of ours lost her husband in a robbery. At his funeral, she stood up and said something that I will never forget. She challenged us all (as well as herself, I would imagine) to choose forgiveness, not for the sake of the murderer, but for our own sakes. She said if we harbour hate it will fester and harm us. It will eat at us from the inside out. She was right, but at that moment, it was only she who could say it.
The title of this book comes from three words Scarlett Lewis discovered on her kitchen chalkboard after the shooting. They were in a misspelled child’s script – Jesse’s script. It was as if Jesse himself was encouraging her and telling her how she should go on without him. Finding hope amidst a series of comforting signs such as this, and benefitting from a solid faith, Lewis was able to move towards healing. In this little book she openly shares her journey. She spoke at Jesse’s funeral and asked everyone who was at the service to consciously change every angry thought to a loving one – to always choose love. Her “Choose Love” campaign resulted in this book and the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation which develops programs that teach children about the power each of us has to choose a life without fear and hate.
The first time I started this book I couldn’t get into it. But when it became an assignment for my reading group, I tried again and I am so glad that I did. It is an intense, absorbing, and captivating novel. I read it compulsively, stealing time from other projects so that I could get back to it. It is chilling and haunting, not so much in any graphic way considering the subject, but in horrific everyday sorts of realizations along the way. There are insights into all sorts of aspects of family life and parenting that Shriver weaves into this gripping story. Because it is a series of letters, it reads more like non-fiction than fiction, and gives the reader an incredible view into the thoughts of the narrator. It is not a cheap thriller, it is a great work of literature. The characters and themes are well drawn and the writing is expertly crafted. It will be on my mind for a long time and though I have not yet seen the movie, I don’t see how it could come close to offering all of the insights that the author develops in this book.
Kevin is responsible for a Columbine type school massacre. We know this at the beginning of the book so the letters his mother sends to his father, are all in hindsight. This type of incident (and there have been so many) inevitably raises the question of how something like this could happen. Was there a serious flaw in the person, in the parents, in society? When we look back into that person’s life in light of what happened, which this book does, were there any signs and clues that were missed? Was this the result of a cold and judgemental mother or an indulgent father? Was it because the boy was rich, or bullied, or marginalized? There is the inclination to find fault or place blame, because the thought that an ordinary child from a middle class family could get up one morning and commit a multiple murder in cold blood, is just too chilling to absorb.
The ending (in the final paragraph, not the major reveal towards the end) makes a profound statement and is most shocking of all, but I can’t tell you why I thought so because it would involve spoilers. So when you’re finished reading, we do really need to talk about Kevin.