Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

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! 

 

IMG_6593

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.

 

IMG_6590

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.

 

IMG_6606

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.

 

IMG_6595

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.

 

IMG_6597

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.

 

IMG_6599

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.

 

 

IMG_6604

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

 

 

IMG_6609

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.

Sunday Reflections: Pet peeves and more

I run a YA book club through my local public library. It’s an incredibly diverse group. About half of our members are Muslim. We have homeschooled and unschooled kids. The age range runs from 14 to members in their first few years of college (members who’ve stuck around). I have an absolute blast with them. Our meetings don’t have a set format. Sometimes we all read one book (or choose a book to read out of a small pool). Sometimes we read thematically (like when we had the excellent discussion about sexual violence in YA lit). We often just come in ready to talk about whatever we’ve been reading and give lightning round book talks. There’s always a lot of great discussion and our TBR piles grow like crazy every meeting.

 

As you might expect, we all have different likes and dislikes. Often someone will read a book one of us loved and say, uh, really? I didn’t love it. Or someone will hate on a particular genre or stylistic choice, and someone else will be shocked anyone could hate that. The only real rule at book club is to let people talk and be respectful about everyone’s right to like and dislike a book for any given reason. Sometimes I find it so much more interesting to hear why someone disliked a book instead of why they liked it.

 

After our particularly ranty part of a meeting, I said, “Hey, next meeting let’s just talk about our reading pet peeves. Let’s get all our ranting out about what we dislike, what we’re so over, and what we flat-out hate.” They were game. Because of our diverse tastes, I knew that we’d all still add books to our TBR lists even if the titles came up in a rant-based way. One person’s pet peeve is another person’s interest, right? So we started to make a list–a list that briefly expanded to include all of the things we dislike in general (it was January, we hadn’t seen the sun in ages, we were all cranky). I opened the discussion up again on Facebook as I compiled the notes from our meeting and got even more input.

 

It’s not to say that all of us dislike all of these things, or that whoever dislikes the particular thing dislikes it across the board all the time. We agreed on many of the items. We argued others. I offered an adult-perspective smackdown on one. Some items on the list were things we hadn’t noticed before, but now we’re all on the lookout for them (and finding them).

 

Here’s our list:

When characters sit on public bathroom floors (This one is mine–it grosses me out to no end)

 

Characters letting out a breath they didn’t know they were holding

Characters who don’t grow/learn/change at all

 

Girls who like boys who seem to have NO appeal

 

Alternate narration

 

When characters have something they do over and over like bite their lip or whatever

 

Dystopia-fatigue

 

Quickly resolved endings

 

Plots that could be resolved by better communication/one simple thing

 

Is it a secret rule that every YA book has to have a redhead in it?


That “loser girl hates the world but ends up with popular boy” trope is getting real old.

 

“Bad boy/good girl” combination–so overplayed

 

instalove

 

car accidents (This one is also mine. I never paid attention to them, really, until I had a reason to, and now I can’t stop seeing them in YA books)

 

Pop culture references that will seem dated

 

When two people are making out and “their tongues battle for dominance.”

 

weird 90s references that seem unlikely for the character/setting

 

perfect or completely terrible adults who don’t sound like real adults

 

overuse of exclamation points

 

when books reference Harry Potter or Twilight

 

do all characters who are “weird” or “alternative” have to wear Converse?

 

books made up of lists

 

references to social media sites (and, conversely, acting like they don’t exist)

 

When a character has an ED, some other mental illness, or gay and that’s all they are…

 

When the character depicted on the cover looks nothing like how he or she is described in the book

 

manic pixie dream girls

Love triangles (THIS ONE had the most agreement: “Once in awhile they turn out pretty good. Most of the time they just get annoying.” “Love triangles are just annoying. They seem to be in every single book lately. If you loved someone but have feelings for someone else, break up and make a decision! You do it and  you then can have a relationship.”)

 

“The “he’s a bad boy but I can change him/he’s mean but he’s just misunderstood” idea. Playing with fire when you romanticize this and then give it to young girls.” (This was brought up by one of the teens. Another teen girl sort of swooned and said, “Yes, but he’s damaged and you can fix him!” Usually I try not to play the “let me give you some adult advice” card, but here I had to say, “Look, let me spare you a ton of heartache and wasted energy: NO. Do not find this idea appealing.”)

 

Cliffhangers

 

“I don’t like it when a book has a love interest that is some basic person. I like it better when they have a passion and love for making differences and being a leader of movements or their local book club.”

 

That’s our list. We’d love to hear about your personal reading pet peeves or things you’re just so over  in YA books. Leave us a comment or tag us in your tweets (@TLT16 and @CiteSomething).