Monday, 10 September 2018

That's Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger

That's Not What Happened
by Kody Keplinger

Summary: It's been three years since the Virgil County High School Massacre. Three years since my best friend, Sarah, was killed in a bathroom stall during the mass shooting. Everyone knows Sarah's story--that she died proclaiming her faith.

But it's not true.

I know because I was with her when she died. I didn't say anything then, and people got hurt because of it. Now Sarah's parents are publishing a book about her, so this might be my last chance to set the record straight . . . but I'm not the only survivor with a story to tell about what did--and didn't--happen that day.

Except Sarah's martyrdom is important to a lot of people, people who don't take kindly to what I'm trying to do. And the more I learn, the less certain I am about what's right. I don't know what will be worse: the guilt of staying silent or the consequences of speaking up . . .

I'm not sure what to say about this book really. It wasn't bad, but it was a little disappointing. I wanted to read it because it sounded like it was inspired by the stories of two of the Columbine victims* and I thought it would be interesting...and it was, to an extent, but I had some issues with the book.

On one hand, I loved how diverse the book was. I particularly loved that it was representation for people that often don't get representation in YA (i.e. people who are blind, people who are on the ace spectrum). I mostly loved the characters and how complex they were. And there were definitely other parts of the story I loved too.

The story -- it was one of those gut wrenching ones. Especially given how real it is, how frequently school shootings in the US do happen. I think it did a really good job of representing that. By making it about the victims and not the shooter, by not glorifying what happened, by putting more focus on the After part and by showing how caught up the world can get in tragic stories to the point where it's like we let the truth get lost and forget that there are real people who lived it and are still living with it.

But the execution of the story felt lacking (and normally I love Kody's books) and was where it fell flat for me.

It felt really slow and dragged out and repetitive, and it felt quite disjointed. And something about the narration was off. For Lee's parts, it tried to just narrate the story like it was any other novel but then at other parts it would remind us that it isn't, it's a letter to set the record straight. Except that doesn't work because there are details and huge chunks of her narration that wouldn't be included for that purpose.

I feel like I'd maybe have liked it more if the story didn't try to pull Dear Reader thing and was just narrated normally, with the letters interspersed throughout and with us going along on Lee's journey of revealing the truth with her rather than it trying to juggle making it feel like we're doing that with the "if you're reading this then you already know..." vibe. I just found it hard to buy that.

And the ending, while realistic, was really unsatisfying so the book just left me feeling quite hollow whereas books I love would leave me filled with happiness or pain or sadness or hope or a mix of all of those things. But again, I think that's partly to do with the way the narration was done.

I guess what I'm getting at is that it wasn't a bad book and it did a lot of things so well, but it just wasn't for me. I was quite disappointed by it considering how much I'd been wanting to read it and how much I've loved Kody's previous books.

I'd rate the book 2.5 stars out of 5.

*Note: I don't know if the book actually was inspired by Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott. It's not really mentioned in the acknowledgements or anything, but it just reminded me of the stories surrounding those two.

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