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.
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Quick Reasons: mahgosh, my heart hurts; I’m not sure I read the same book everyone else did, where is all the hate coming from?; emotionally-charged writing; 3 dimensional characters I couldn’t help but feel for; lots of tension, drama, and heartache; this book will not let you put it down until the end; life-ruiner
I read through some of the other ratings on Goodreads after finishing this book. Perhaps a dumb move, I know…but I needed to understand what others were seeing that I didn’t. I needed to know why the rating was so much lower than I expected it to be.
I have to admit…I don’t think I read the same book all the nay-sayers did. What they said in their reviews confused me—because I didn’t feel that way about this book or these characters at all. I get everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, but…I don’t understand.
The masses part in front of Ty. With every step he takes, the students around him scatter from the aisle, down the rows of seats, pushing themselves toward the sides of the room—anything to increase the distance between them and Tyler. Together we could be so strong, but the gun has made us individuals.
This book starts off with a bang, though perhaps not the one you’d expect going in. The first three chapters are all about setting the stage, finding our main perspectives, and giving us a little glimpse into the different lives/thoughts going on the day tragedy strikes this sleepy little town. I immediately found it interesting that the chapters were all blocked into 2 or 3 minute intervals—they act as little snapshots into those distinguishing moments. I cannot speak for how time travels during tragedies such as this—I’m a Wyoming girl, and never experienced something so terrible in my time at school. But I imagine, given how slippery time is, such small moments can feel frozen into forever at times. A lot can happen in just a minute or two—the formatting of the chapters really helped to drive this home for me, that such tremendous tragedies often last mere moments.
The four main stories we get throughout both work to give backstory and tell the unfolding situation. I read that a lot of others found this to be stiff, the characters too flat or un-moving. Someone even mentioned that there’s really no growth in them as characters. I have to admit, this bugs me—in 54 minutes, in the scope of death and terror and despair…do you really expect someone to go through life-changing alterations? To grow so quickly? I think a lot of that happens in the quiet moments, after the chaos, after the sirens, after the world has moved on. To expect significant growth in times like this seems, to me, a bit silly—we’re just as trapped in the moment as the characters. What growth there is (and there is some, I promise!) is more subtle, quieter. It’s in the courage found by the students, in the quiet ways they strove to stay safe and to keep each other safe—in the ways the community, for those terrifying 54 minutes, came together. Character growth doesn’t always have to be life-altering; sometimes, it’s found in simply reaching out a hand, or standing up when you know it could cost you everything.
My mother doesn’t recognize me, and my sister doesn’t recognize me. If I don’t get out of here, what will be left of me? Who will remember me?
It’s easier to know who I’m not than to know who I am. When everyone expects mt to fail, it’s easier to give up than to try.
Marieke Nijkamp took us into the heart of tragedy and allowed us just a glimpse into a world fraught with terror, with despair, with quiet courage and loud loss. If you’re reading carefully, you’ll find what I did: a reason, albeit not easy to understand, to the chaos. It is not one many of us can understand, I’ll grant you that…but it’s there. And while it doesn’t part the waters of confusion, while it doesn’t step up onto a chair and screech its presence, if you’re reading closely you’ll find it. Tragedies, unfortunately, can’t always be drawn in black and white answers; sometimes there isn’t a reason. Sometimes, no reason is found—or given. Often, the reason we do get explains nothing.
This book changed me, and changed the way I will think about tragedies like this in the future. Not in any way I can explain with words, perhaps… It’s a subtle shifting, a different shadow lurking over my thoughts, a bubble of hope popped and colored in different strokes. The atmospheric writing, the “on the edge of my seat, clawing my nails down my face, heart thumping unsteadily” feeling I had from page one—it all came together into a crescendo of heartache and tears.
After another group of students leaves and we’re left waiting, I sink into a chair. My heart is empty, and my head is full. The stories tumble over one another. We’re grief counselors simply because we’re there. I can understand why Deputy Lee did not want us here. I never realized that courage was so terrifying.
I definitely recommend this to readers of realistic fiction and emotionally-charged or life-altering scenes. If you let it, this book will seep into your veins and leave stains across your heart. If you let it, this book will change you. It certainly did me.