It’s graduation day for the seniors of East Ridge High School in New Jersey, eleven years after a shooting in a first-grade class killed eighteen of their classmates. It’s a big media event, of course, but it’s also a pivotal event in the lives of survivors like Cole, who became the “face” of the tragedy when photojournalists captured him being safely carried out of the classroom in the arms of Officer Jessup, and Matt, who was the lone classmate absent from school the day of the shooting. As best friends Matt and Cole wrestle with their apprehensions about the future and, in Matt’s case, with survivor’s guilt, they watch their fellow classmates finalize plans to take off for college in the fall and leave East Ridge behind.
Cole, who often wears sunglasses to hide his identity and avoid fuss when in public, is a poet who finds himself inarticulate and awkward in social situations. His father having recently died of cancer, Cole feels responsible for his mother who appears to be in denial. His dad’s hospital bed is still set up in the living room, bills aren’t being paid, his mom sleeps a lot, drinks too much, and generally ignores basic housekeeping. He has put his college plans on hold because he feels the need to stay around to take care of her. He is however, infatuated with British transfer student Viola (who hardly knows who he is) and is focused on creating a relationship with her before she heads off to Berkeley at the end of the summer.
Matt, a popular and self-assured baseball star with a scholarship to Bucknell, feels guilty for having missed school the day of the shooting and is trying to figure out Why Was I Allowed to Live? To that end he puts himself in risky situations to test if he will be Saved for a Purpose and inserts himself into the lives of others in an effort to understand how they are managing to Move On.
Coming on the twentieth anniversary of the Columbine shooting, this book addresses both the immediate and the enduring impacts of such a horrific event on students, family members and society. It examines coping behaviors used to deal with the aftermath, and it shines a blinding spotlight on the failure of leaders to take meaningful action on gun control.
Content flagged in the book includes sexual situations, threatening and real physical violence, excessive drinking, drug dealing, and offensive language of the usual sort (mostly variations of “f***”). There is a great deal of religious profanity that would be highly offensive to Christians. This I found curious until in retrospect I realized the author did not include religion as a viable option or source of comfort to any his characters. Too bad.
Categories: Addiction, Controversial YA Topics, Crime, Death and Grieving, Depression, Differently Abled, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, Grief, Mental Health, Navigating through High School, Navigating through Middle School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Political Activism, School Shootings, Social Disorders, Social Media, Sports Camps, Violence