Monday, November 19, 2018

That's Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger, 2018

Click to view
on Goodreads 
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 . . .

(329 pages)

When this book first showed up on my doorstep, I was hesitant to crack it open.

I myself have not survived a shooting, but I lived in Baltimore for five years and I know people, or people who know people, who have been on the scene of school shootings, mall shootings, club shootings, and even the Boston marathon bombing. I don't see this sort of horrific ordeal as something that should be fictionalized and turned into entertainment, whether it's trying to make some sort of point or not. There are enough real stories out there about real victims and real survivors that it didn't seem like this book served any purpose except to drain emphasis away from those stories.

After reading it, I do appreciate its significance. Keplinger can explore the nuances of truth in the aftermath of a tragedy, and the distortions that reality can be put through in order for people to find a "meaningful story" buried in the horror, without hacking at the legacy of a real victim or forcing survivors to reopen old wounds or even defend their testimonies to a hord of truth-seeking readers.

By making up her own tragedy, and "knowing" what really happened, Keplinger can focus on her characters and on showing how the truth becomes distorted in the aftermath of a horrible event. It's a fascinating idea because, really, there are no bad guys in this book–the real bad guy, the murderer, is gone. His name is not even in the book because it is not about him. Instead we see that even the people who have twisted the truth the most did not do it maliciously. The truth was distorted in their minds because they latched on to a story they thought was true, that they needed to be true, and they refused to let it go.

This is a powerful and moving book, but it does get bogged down sometimes by some of the things Keplinger chooses to include. There's a fairly lengthy plotline about a survivor whose cousin was killed which I think got a bit too much time. I have to include a content warning because there are a couple characters who are lesbian or asexual, and also possibly some foul language (I'm afraid my copy is back home and I can't double check). Plus obviously a trigger warning: it gets fairly detailed during the flashbacks to the shooting, so don't read the book if that's going to be too hard for you.

It's a rough read, but if you don't mind the content then I think it's a pretty good one. I wasn't really satisfied with the ending, but with this sort of book that's sort of the point. There is no happy ending tied up in a bow after something so horrific has happened.

How do you feel about books that deal with such painful topics? I'm still on the fence about them, even though I appreciated this one.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Join the conversation!