A Sadly Growing Genre | School Shooting Fiction

As our country once again mourns the victims of yet another mass shooting, some readers may want to turn to literature to try to make sense of an action so violent and inexplicable. Fiction about school shootings is, sadly, a expanding genre, and four novels being published early this year will stir serious discussion.

As our country once again mourns the victims of yet another mass shooting, this time 17 students and  teachers killed at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, some readers may want to turn to literature to try to make sense of an action so violent and inexplicable.

Since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre that left 15 people dead, authors such as Lionel Shriver (We Need To Talk About Kevin) and Jodi Picoult (Nineteen Minutes) have explored the unnerving issue of gun violence and mass shootings through their fiction, investigating the causes and tracing the tragic aftermath. Sadly, this is a genre that is expanding. Goodreads lists 62 novels about school shootings, and LJ Prepub Alert Editor Barbara Hoffert has identified at least four more titles being published early this year.

Released February 6, Rhiannon Navin’s first novel, Only Child (see starred review below) was an LJ Editors’ Spring Pick and generated early prepublication buzz with its heartbreaking story of six-year-old Zachary Taylor, whose older brother is killed in a school shooting. April marks the publication of Tom McAllister’s How To Be Safe (see starred review below), about a high school teacher blamed for a shooting, and Elise Juska’s If We Had Known, centering on a college professor who recognizes a mass shooter as a former student. In May, a deadly assault at a mall drives the plot of Nora Roberts’s next stand-alone, Shelter in Place.

Below are LJ‘s reviews and Prepub Alert annotations for these four books that are bound to stir plenty of serious discussion.

Reviewed in LJ 1/18

OrangeReviewStar Defending Your Castle | African American Fiction (And More!)Navin, Rhiannon. Only Child. Knopf.
Feb. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9781524733353. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781524733360. F
DEBUT Navin’s first novel guides us through the aftermath of a tragedy through the eyes of a six-year-old child. When Zach Taylor’s older brother, Andy, is killed in a school shooting, he is mostly left to fend for himself emotionally while his parents struggle to cope with the loss. Zach’s ­father retreats into his work, while his mother turns to organizing a group of other affected parents to take legal action against the shooter’s family. Unable to understand fully what’s happening or process his emotions, Zach retreats to a “hideout” in Andy’s bedroom closet. As his family continues to deteriorate, he learns to use both his anger and his sympathy to begin the healing process. While the narration approaches preciousness at times, telling the story through Zach’s eyes allows it to focus on human emotion and family dynamics without getting bogged down in political posturing. Zach has a refreshing honesty because he’s not old enough to have learned to filter his emotions, and, as befits a child, many of his observations are sensory: smells, facial expressions, bodily functions. VERDICT A tough, topical story with a hopeful conclusion for the family, this is a strong book club choice. [See Prepub Alert, 8/28/17.]—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis

Reviewed in LJ 2/15/18

Roberts, Nora. Shelter in Place. St. Martin’s. May 2018. 448p. ISBN 9781250161598. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250161611. F
Multiple award winner Roberts’s (Year One; Come Sundown) latest stand-alone novel begins with a literal bang as a typical evening in a Maine mall is shattered by a deadly, well-planned shooting. The body count is high and some of the survivors, including college student Reed Quartermaine and 16-year-old Simone Knox, are lauded as heroes for their actions. The guilt and grief they suffer send Simone and Reed off into unexpected yet ultimately rewarding ­directions: Simone turns her pain into art, and Reed becomes a police officer. The cinematic, big-screen action of the opening smoothly transitions into the intimacy of the survivors doing the hard work of becoming functioning humans, supported by well-conceived secondary characters. When Simone and Reed meet, their attraction is instant, and they begin to forge a new life together. But after survivors of the DownEast Mall massacre start turning up dead, Reed begins to suspect someone with close ties to the killers is behind the murders. VERDICT Roberts lets the sharply outlined characters, including an unusual villain, take center stage in another tautly plotted page-turner that suspense and thriller readers will love.—Charli Osborne, Oak Park P.L., MI

To be reviewed in LJ 3/1/18.

McAllister, Tom. How To Be Safe. Liveright: Norton. Apr. 2018. 224p. ISBN 9781631494130. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631494147. F
Author of The Young Widower’s Handbook, a Discover Great New Writers Pick, McAllister jumps to a big house for his second novel. High school English teacher Anna, bitter over what she considers an unjust suspension for venting her feelings, turns on the television to find that she’s blamed in a shooting at the school. Though immediately absolved, she is regarded with suspicion in a town spinning into fear and anxiety. A critique of both sexism and media madness. [Prepub Alert, 10/16/17.]

 

 

To be reviewed in LJ 3/15/18.

Juska, Elise. If We Had Known. Grand Central. Apr. 2018. 272p. ISBN 9781455561773. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781455561759. F
When a small Maine town is terrorized by a mass shooting, English professor Maggie Daley is shocked to learn that the gunman is a former student. What’s worse, she realizes that an old essay of his carries hints of the violence to come, and her dismay begins to affect her relationships with her daughter, her boss, and a secret new love. Juska (The Blessings) won the Alice Hoffman Prize for Fiction from Ploughshares. [Prepub Alert, 10/16/17.]

 

 

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