I began preparing this post last spring in observance of the Columbine High School tragedy, which occurred on April 20, 1999. Then the Boston Marathon bombing occurred, so I held off on posting because I felt that there were too many fresh wounds for people to read such a post. And I had my own issues, because I lived in Boston. But now I think it’s important to write this post, because sadly, these events occur far too regularly for me to find the perfect time to post, where it’s not too recent but not too far from everyone’s minds. And it has already been 15 years since Columbine, and yet there is no shortage of similar events to fill that space.
When it comes to Columbine, today’s teens mostly have no memory of this event, which may even have occurred before they were born. And unlike tragedies of the past few years, where we have had texting, tweeting, and news streaming online to keep us abreast of events as they unfold, many of us only knew about Columbine after it happened. This brings up a lot of thoughts about safety, over-exposure, and security – if we all have Internet access in most places, is it our duty to notify others about emergencies as they take place? Does that impede the measures of emergency personnel trying to get the situation under control, or does it help more people get to safety? Is checking Twitter for news all the time healthy, does it desensitize us, or does it depress us? I recall my experience of living in Boston on the day of the manhunt; after a good four hours of watching the same five news reports over and over again, I had to turn it off, watch some fun TV, and make snacks with a friend, because it was simply too exhausting. Then again, having so much access to news forces us to engage with current events and consider how they affect our lives.
So here is a simple list of YA novels that have attempted to unravel and understand how teens deal with violent occurrences – leading up to them, during them, and after them. No commentary, just publisher copy and a Goodreads link. I hope these can be helpful, meaningful, or healing for you.
And We Stay (2014) by Jenny Hubbard
“When high school senior Paul Wagoner walks into his school library with a stolen gun, he threatens his girlfriend Emily Beam, then takes his own life. In the wake of the tragedy, an angry and guilt-ridden Emily is shipped off to boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she encounters a ghostly presence who shares her name. The spirit of Emily Dickinson and two quirky girls offer helping hands, but it is up to Emily to heal her own damaged self.”
Bruised (2013) by Sarah Skilton
“Imogen has always believed that her black belt in Tae Kwon Do made her stronger than everyone else–more responsible, more capable. But when she witnesses a holdup in a diner, she freezes. The gunman is shot and killed by the police. And it’s all her fault.
Now she’s got to rebuild her life without the talent that made her special and the beliefs that made her strong. If only she could prove herself in a fight–a real fight–she might be able to let go of the guilt and shock. She’s drawn to Ricky, another witness to the holdup, both romantically and because she believes he might be able to give her the fight she’s been waiting for.”
Crash and Burn (2013) by Michael Hassan (2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults)
“On April 21, 2008, Steven “Crash” Crashinsky saved more than a thousand people when he stopped his classmate David Burnett from taking their high school hostage armed with assault weapons and high-powered explosives. You likely already know what came after for Crash: the nationwide notoriety, the college recruitment, and, of course, the book deal. What you might not know is what came before: a story of two teens whose lives have been inextricably linked since grade school, who were destined, some say, to meet that day in the teachers’ lounge of Meadows High. And what you definitely don’t know are the words that Burn whispered to Crash right as the siege was ending, a secret that Crash has never revealed.
Hate List (2009) by Jennifer Brown (2012 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)
“Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.
Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.”
Endgame (2006) by Nancy Garden
“A new town, a new school, a new start. That’s what fourteen-year-old Gray Wilton believes as he chants, “It’s gonna be better, gonna be better here.” But it doesn’t take long for Gray to realize that nothing’s going to change–there are bullies in every school, and he’s always their punching bag. Their brutal words, physical abuse, and emotional torture escalate until Gray feels trapped in a world where he has no control, no support systems, and no way out–until the day he enters the halls of Greenford High School with his father’s semiautomatic in hand.”
Project X (2004) by Jim Shepard
“In the wilderness of junior high, Edwin Hanratty is at the bottom of the food chain. His teachers find him a nuisance. His fellow students consider him prey. And although his parents are not oblivious to his troubles, they can’t quite bring themselves to fathom the ruthless forces that demoralize him daily.
Sharing in these schoolyard indignities is his only friend, Flake. Branded together as misfits, their fury simmers quietly in the hallways, classrooms, and at home, until an unthinkable idea offers them a spectacular and terrifying release.”
Shooter (2004) by Walter Dean Myers (2005 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults)
“Cameron: ‘Deep inside, you know that whoever gets up in your face gets there because he knows youâ€²re nothing, and he knows that you know it too.’
Carla: ‘What Iâ€²m trying to do is to get by — not even get over, just get by.’
Leonard: ‘I have bought a gaw-juss weapon. It lies beneath my bed like a secret lover, quiet, powerful, waiting to work my magic.’
Statement of Fact: 17-year-old white male found dead in the aftermath of a shooting incident at Madison High School in Harrison County.
Conclusion: Death by self-inflicted wound.”
Give a Boy a Gun (2002) by Todd Strasser (2002 Audiobooks for Young Adults)
“For as long as they can remember, Brendan and Gary have been mercilessly teased and harassed by the jocks who rule Middletown High. But not anymore. Stealing a small arsenal of guns from a neighbor, they take their classmates hostage at a school dance. In the panic of this desperate situation, it soon becomes clear that only one thing matters to Brendan and Gary: revenge.”
Drive-by (1997) by Lynne Ewing
“‘Jimmy always told me there were only two kinds of gangbangers: Those who were dead and those who were going to die. Joining a gang doesn’t make sense to Jimmy…’
Jimmy is dead now – gunned down in front of his little sister, Mina, and his brother, Tito. And Tito is left wondering: Was Jimmy in a gang after all? Ice Breaker Joe and Lamar think so. They say Jimmy was skimming their drug money. And if the missing cash isn’t returned, Tito may have to pay – with his life.”
“If any good thing came out of Columbine, it was the elevation of attention given to this epidemic problem and the very rapid emergence of a subgenre of young adult literature that continues to explore the many aspects of this issue with insight and empathy” -Michael Cart, Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism
–Hannah GÃ³mez, currently reading The Dark Between by Sonia Gensler