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YA Book Club Discussion: This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

IMG_6587On December 12, the teen book club I run at the library talked about Marieke Nijkamp’s This Is Where It Ends, a story about a school shooting. Sourcebooks was nice enough to send us a box of books, some chalkboards, and chalk as part of a pre-publication event. Six very talkative teens took part in the main discussion (some other teens took the book back in November when I handed it out, but didn’t make it to this meeting, and a few other kids filtered in toward the end of our discussion). We took pictures of ourselves holding the chalkboards after we wrote our brief reaction to the book on them. For privacy’s sake, we covered up our faces and I am only using the teens’ first initial (and seriously, yes, like half my book club has names that start with A).

 

As an aside, can I just say that I LOVE when we feature actual teen voices on TLT? I spend so much of my time hearing what other adults think about YA, and while that’s great, I am always desperate to hear more from actual teenagers when it comes to discussions on YA. Having worked in a high school library and now a public library, and running a teen book club, I’ve gotten spoiled by how many conversations I get to have about YA with real teens. I often think their voices get lost in all of our chatter. I so value their input (on everything, book-related or not) and am lucky that I get to interact with teens all the time.

 

For more about Marieke Nijkamp and her new book, check out my School Library Journal interview with her! 

 

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Me, age 19 (twice over)

The publisher’s overview of the book:

10:00 a.m.
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.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03
The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05
Someone starts shooting.

Told from four perspectives over the span of 54 harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

 

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E, age 17

 

The discussion (which includes some spoilers):

Conversation flew fast and furious (and my notes are quite fragmented—hard to catch all of the side conversations that cropped up). I’m mostly just going to relay what they talked about and not editorialize or argue points where I may disagree with them. What follows are highlights from our discussion:

 

The teens all felt that the various reactions and way things unfolded in the auditorium were extremely realistic. We saw a wide range of reactions to the shooting from the students in the book. Some of our discussion veered into wondering if certain characters reacted in realistic ways, or wondering why it took them so long to do specific things. We kept coming back to, well, who knows how any of us would react in this horrific situation.

 

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R, age 16

 

We spent a fair amount of time wondering how realistic the set-up was, with an entire school all in one place in the auditorium and the shooter having enough time to secure the building and get certain people out of the way. My group of book club teens includes traditionally schooled teenagers as well as home schooled and unschooled kids. Many of the teens attend the high school I used to work at. We all agreed that if a situation like this were to unfold there, there would still be faculty and staff present in other areas of the building, so it was hard for many of us to picture a school event that put everyone conveniently in one place.
There was also a large discussion about how realistic the response time seemed. Again, we were only hypothesizing, and know the school was in a remote area, but many wondered if it would actually take the police so long to get to the school. Everyone understood the police had to be kept away, for narrative purposes, but wondered about the believability of it.

 

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A, age 19

 

Responses to characters were all over the place. Many didn’t like Autumn, the shooter’s sister, or feel connected to her. Others did like her. One girl wondered if she was depressed. Everyone did, however, agree that including a family member in this situation was important and a nice touch. We talked about how none of these acts of violence occur in a vacuum, and that all shooters have families, are someone’s kid, etc. This led to talking later about readers wanting to know what happened after the event, how Tyler’s dad and sister coped and moved on.

 

Another element that generated discussion was the use of flashbacks to fill in backstories. For many, it distracted from the suspense to keep getting pulled away from the story to go back and learn details. They wondered if there was a different way to give us this information without breaking up the tension.

 

Many of the teens felt sad for Tyler, the shooter, and felt empathy for him. They felt sorry for him. They saw he was at the end of his rope and that this shooting was his revenge, with him punctuating his point. Nothing was going to stop him. They talked about how he didn’t just snap, that he had planned this, and that he knew how it would all end. They said the book ended in a way that it had to—there was no other outcome for Tyler than what happened.

 

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Q, age 14

Regarding the violence, the teens felt it was realistic without being overly graphic, and that it was hard to read, but you can’t censor the violence in a story about a school shooting.

 

One boy repeatedly noted how good Nijkamp is at striking terror into her readers. We all could feel the horror of what was happening in that auditorium.

 

We talked a little about the social media aspects included in the novel—tweets and messages interspersed between chapters. The teens said it helped show reactions on the outside and the immediacy of reactions. They were grossed out by the people trying to get interviews and remarks from kids busy being worried they were about to be shot. A few felt the tweets etc weren’t necessary and distracted from the tension.

 

I was surprised that the teenagers ALL agreed that they felt the body count would be higher (than the incredibly high number it was). Given how long the shooter held most of the school captive, they thought far more students would have died. Eek.

 

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S, age 16

 

We discussed the epilogue to the book, too. The teenagers felt the epilogue softened the otherwise extremely dark and upsetting book. One girl noted that it gave readers a bit of hope to cling to. A few wanted the book to end with the chapter prior to the epilogue, to let it end on a more brutal and hopeless note. One girl noted that she simply didn’t read epilogues if she thought the penultimate chapter provided a satisfying ending.

 

Overall, the teenagers saw a lot to pick apart (and believe me, they ALWAYS do)—the believability of the situation, the response time, the reactions—but all agreed that the novel hit close to home with how common mass shootings are and are curious to see what Nijkamp will do next.

 

 

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A, age 13

The teenagers wrote up brief responses to the novel: 

 

THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS is one of the most compelling books I have read in a long time. The way that the characters’ stories intertwined so effortlessly really amazed me, and the way that all the characters had something to do with Tyler really gave them all a purpose and made them all essential. However, in my opinion, at the middle/latter part of the book, the flashbacks were, I thought, a bit unnecessary. I was almost tempted to stop reading because of the lack of suspense, at the part where I thought there should have been more. But other than that, one of the better books I have read in a long time.

A, age 13

 

Okay, so this book was not something I would actively seek out, but it was something that really resonated me. It was a well-written book but could have been better without the fillers. It really made me think about how many people in my school could be capable of doing this. All and all this was an okay novel.

E, age 17

 

I really like Tyler’s planning, but it doesn’t seem very practical. It seems odd how far away the school is from town. Autumn is a drama queen. Tomas is a great character. I really wanted more aftermath. The background characters give a lot of life to the story.

Q, age 14

 

What a heartwrenching read! The characters have such great development, only to have them disappear at a moment’s notice. The relevency of the concept is sure to make this a interesting read for teens. A very thought- provoking and tragic story.

S, age 16

 

So I liked the book overall. It had lots of great things like how it seemed very real in the auditorium and you could picture what it would be like to be in a school shooting which is very common but not really talked about. It has some good characters who you could empathize with. Also I found the idea of everything happening so fast cool. But I think all the backstory, though necessary, was too distracting from trying to make everything happen in less than an hour. I forgot I was scared till it flashed back into current time and it was a little difficult to stay focused, but when it did go back you wanted to keep reading to find out what happens next during the shooting.

 

I thought Tomas’s character was pretty well done and we wanted him to save the day and we are sad for him. Also most kids have been bullied/outcast from some group so we could relate to what it’d be like to be a school shooter in a very very less aggressive way. I thought it was very smart to add a family member in the auditorium because I have an older brother who has autism so he’s been bullied and most people assume school shooters to be autistic, sadly, so I could relate somewhat to her character. She had barely any depth to her character and I understand why she’d be so depressed—she barely had friends or interests. I liked her relationship with Sylvia because it was subtle and semi realistic in the fact a lot of couples aren’t public and especially gay or lesbian couples don’t want to tell their parents so keeping it hidden seems like a good depiction of that kind of relationship that isn’t portrayed in a lot of things.

 

I like how it ended because if he didn’t die we would have been very mad at him and probably wished he had died and in most stories you hear of school shooters or any shooting they kill themselves because they have no reason to live and go to jail. I would recommend this book for a quick read on a new perspective of school shootings but needs work in areas like, where was the rest of the staff and students because in normal lockdowns they are in their rooms but was everyone in the auditorium? Usually that doesn’t happen in real life because kids go to the bathroom, teachers don’t have to be at assemblies that don’t affect them, etc.

R, age 16

 

 

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A, age 18

Thanks to Sourcebooks for providing us with the books! This Is Where It Ends comes out today, January 5th. For another look at teens’ reactions to this book, see Karen’s post.

TAB Book Discussion: THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp

tiwie9 I have a secret: I have never been able to succeffully host a teen book discussion group at any of the libraries I have worked at. At most I ever got 3 people to attend, so I eventually gave it up and moved on to more successful programming. But I was contacted by Sourcebooks and given the opportunity to host a book discussion of the upcoming January release THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp and I jumped at the chance. The main difference this time? I was going to be hosting it in my house with the TLT Teen Advisory Board.

So on Thursday, November 12th 4 TLT TAB members and a couple of their friends met at my house to discuss THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS. We had 6 teens all together and they had all read and loved the book. Discussion kits were sent to me a few weeks earlier by Sourcebooks to help us prepare for our discussion. At the end I asked each teen to share a short review of the book and we asked each teen to share visually their overall impression of the book. That information follows the Publisher’s Book Description.

Here are our TLT TAB members getting ready to discuss THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS

Here are our TLT TAB members getting ready to discuss THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS

Publisher’s Book Description

thisiswhereitends10:00 a.m.
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.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03
The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05
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.

 

 

The Teens’ Reactions

tiwie13

Melanie, 12th grade

tiwie2

“In the debut novel by Marieke Nijkemp, it displays an ever growing situation that is being an everyday problem. The author utilizes literary devices to portray an event told by different perspectives. It moved readers and changed the way we viewed things.”

Lexi, 12th grade

tiwie6

“This book swept the rug out from underneath my feet. I felt every death, felt every pain these deaths caused, felt the devastation these twins faced. This book ripped me apart and only when I lost all hope did it stitch me back together.”

Kris, 11th grade

tiwie5

“This book kept me wondering and always on the edge of my seat. I always [wanted] to know more and was always changing how I felt about characters. It was constantly having my emotions played with. Great read had me hooked from the first few pages.”

The Teen, 7th grade

tiwie4

“This book captured the pure horror of an event and beautifully told the story of many people. It also created the image of people who change and how they turn into what they are. Just perfect.”

Cat, 7th grade

tiwie3

“Unexpected and captures the true terror of the people inside the school and outside. Tells of people’s life and how each of them contribute to Tyler’s story. beautifully written, it’s a story of a school shooting. I understand how people react to the shooting and how your life is at risk. Also, if my loved one’s died I would die inside.”

The Bestie, 7th grade

tiwie1

“Unexpected and suspenseful in so many ways. No changes are needed to make this one of the best book’s ever. I’m in love with the mind-blowing ending and the twists and turns of a crazy high school experience.”

The Discussion

This is a really powerful book for a book discussion. There were a lot of characters to discuss, a lot of events, and of course the teens had a lot to say about the topic of school violence and even gun control. The three older teens all go to a magnet school and it was interesting to note that they all felt safe there. They said there was almost no bullying and they thought it may be in part because each student there chose to go to that school. In comparison, the three younger teens all talked about the bullying and fighting in their school. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago there was an incident where someone in the local high school had made threats and had been arrested.

Although the teens were overwhelmingly positive about the reading experience, there was some heated discussion about characters, motivation and, as I mentioned, gun control. One of the teens felt that the book was perhaps propaganda for gun control because they didn’t really present another viewpoint. Although in the end she was still really enjoyed the book and her reading experience. I’m not sure that I agree with her about the gun control issue because it doesn’t really come up one way or the other in the book; because it is a book about a school shooting it of course must show someone using a gun for a negative purpose. Towards the end there are multiple police present so it could be argued that both sides are shown. But like I said, it was an interesting and at times intense discussion.

Our primary discussion revolved around the characters. It was interesting to note that all 6 of the teens had a different favorite character. It was also interesting to note how sympathetic they felt towards various characters and why. THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS presents a diverse cast of characters, which I appreciated

As you can probably tell, this was a great book. I think intense is a really good word for it. Be sure to check out Amanda’s recent Take 5 on some newer titles dealing with school violence.

THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp will be published in January of 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire. ISBN: 978-1-4926-2246-8