Peter has been bullied by his "peers" most of his life. It started on the first day of kindergarten, and just never stopped. Finally, in his junior year in high school, he does something which will stop the bullying forever: he comes to school armed. Nineteen minutes later, ten people are dead, and an entire community is brought to its knees. This is a book which offers no easy answers to an issue which is in the mind of any parent of a school-aged child (who can forget Columbine?), but it's a story which has been carefully crafted, and beatifully told - a real page-turner, and one which proved very thought-provoking for me.
~The rest of this review contains SPOILERS~
There are no easy answers to the question: whose fault is it, really? Peter's? His parents - and his mother in particular - for parenting mistakes they made? His former best friend, Josie, who turned her back on him when being his friend made her a target for the bullies, too? The children who bullied him, or the school staff who turned a blind eye for years?
Anger, and sadness. Those were my primary emotions in reading this book. Picoult did a wonderful job of showing us why Peter was to be pitied - the torment he suffered for years should NEVER be allowed to happen, and as a parent, it's something that I have considered. How can I not think about it? The thought of my child being bullied fills me with terror, and the thought of him becoming a bully isn't much nicer. And yet, while my heart broke for Peter, and oh my god for his mother, what he did was still horrible beyond belief (and he does pay the price for his actions).
I think the thing that struck me most in reading this book was the thoughts it brought up for me about what it means to be a mother. When our children do well, we gladly soak up the praise; when our children fail (or worse), we also must shoulder the blame. Is that fair, or is it an illusion that we have as much power as we - and society - assumes that we do? I thought it was interesting that Peter's mother, Lacy, is the one I'd have considered the "better" parent, as compared to Judge Cormier, who was completely out of touch with Josie almost deliberately. Yet, in spite of the lovingly-packed lunches Lacy made every morning for her son, he was the one who snapped. (Except that, as it turned out, Josie had her share of angst, too). But I couldn't stop thinking what a "rock and a hard place" mothering can be. We always want the absolute best for our children - for them to be happy - and yet, when it gets right down to it, we're mostly powerless to provide this elusive thing for them. We can't control what happens to them when they're out of our sight, and often, we can't control things as much as we'd like even when they're with us. Which is, frankly, terrifying. This, of course, isn't a new feeling for me, but this book did an excellent job of eliciting it strongly, and bringing out that ache that I sometimes feel when I'm confronted with the reality that no matter how much I want to, I can't always "fix" things for my son.
Picoult did a great job, I thought, of building up sympathy for Peter, but always bringing it back, and reminding us that many of his victims were completely innocent. There really is no way to condone or justify what he did, and yet, it was also impossible for me to hate him, maybe even difficult to blame him for doing it. (Picoult is a master at showing us the "gray" areas in the black and white situations, as one of the cover blurbs proclaims). There were times when I felt Picoult was treading awfully close to "over the top," and yet, really, I'm afraid that what she described - in terms of the bullying Peter received - is probably not uncommon, or exaggerated, at all. Children can be so very cruel. And why not? They have adults as their role models. Just the thought of a Superman lunchbox breaks my heart right now. Those little things, the little things which are meant to be loving, and bring joy, and yet that's not at all how things turned out. And whose fault is it? I think Picoult showed us that it's everyone's fault. It's not one twisted boy with crappy parents who couldn't be bothered to keep him from listening to punk rock and playing shooter games; it's the whole society which allows a culture like this to flourish. I suppose the glimmer of hope lies, then, in the fact that perhaps if we all change the way we think, we can change the culture, as well. I'll focus on that gilmmer of hope. I have a son who will be of high school age in only a few years.
I think this is the best by this author I've read yet. 10 stars/10
I'm turning this into a bookring, so anyone who would like to read it, let me know, and I'll put you on the list. It'll be on it's way to you this week, beckerbuns (so don't read the review . . . yet)! :D