This is the second book I’ve read with a school shooting at its center. They’re both out this year so it’s hard not to compare one against the other. This Is Where It Ends is told in the alternating perspectives of four characters on the day of a school shooting. They all know the shooter. None of them know why he’s there. Some are trapped inside. Some are trapped outside. Things can change in a minute when they’re out of your control. And sometimes you have no idea what kind of ripples your actions will make or the effect they’ll have on others.
Whenever I review books that have tense subjects I’m a little worried that I’m going to come off as a heartless reviewer. I’ve just found that when contemporary novels try to illustrate real world problems and events, I hold them more accountable than a mostly fictionalized contemporary novel or other genre. I expect them to be something more, especially when they’re trying to teach something. This Is Where It Ends is one of those novels. Its aim is to show us how people react in times of terror and become everyday heroes. It wants to show us how even when people have been harmed, they’re able to come to terms with what happened–and sometimes their own guilty feelings over surviving–in order to remember those who are lost. Because the novel is trying to show us that, I think that it becomes too much of a “this is how you’re meant to feel right now” sort of novel. It’s telling me what to feel instead of letting me figure it out from the writing alone. I only felt tense from the events when I couldn’t feel the author’s presence, which didn’t happen enough. What This Is Where It Ends does do well is to show how things can change in a matter of moments with no reason behind it that you can understand. There was never a moment where the shooter directly said “This is why,” which I feel was important. There were hints about the reasoning, but nothing concrete. I think that was an important distinction that the author made: We often don’t know why.
The main reason that the novel fell a little flat for me were the characters. It’s hard to have multiple characters in longer books and this novel is a short read. It didn’t have as much time for character building as other novels would have. Unfortunately, that meant that I didn’t feel that any of the characters were unique. Like The Light Fantastic, if the names weren’t at the head of each section, I’m not sure that I would have been able to tell the four apart. Something that would have worked had I cared about the characters was the fact that some where in the auditorium and others were out. I liked that they weren’t all inside. Having the four characters connected through bonds of family or relationships was also interesting, but again, I didn’t quite feel that emotional connection to them. For a book with such a heavy issue, it’s so important that the characters be done well. I need to be connected to them. When I’m not, the novel begins to seem contrived.
A stylistic choice that didn’t completely work out was the blog posts and the twitter messages. The author either needed to do more or to cut them out completely. I think that it really could have illustrated how people hear about these tragedies as they happen but are helpless to do anything. It was clear that these messages were meant to show that but it didn’t work as well as it could have. I didn’t know enough about who these outside characters were trying to message, so I didn’t care. If I had known who these characters were, my stake in them would have been higher.
Ultimately, the tension was in the events rather than the characters. I felt that the author was relying too much on the school shooting as a way to keep the readers invested. I found that I was thinking more about school shootings in the real world rather than this fictionalized one. That was where my emotion came from. And I had a problem with that. I should be able to connect with the characters in a book about this subject. I felt that by not having well-drawn characters, this book with such a huge message was cheapened.
I do think other people will like this, and I found it better than The Light Fantastic. It managed to get past a few of my issues by having less protagonists, but I think that the book relies too much on the event rather than any character building or plot building. We all know the ways that school shootings go, so the author was able to ease up on the plot building. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t invested in the characters more. I expected a lot more from this one.
2.5 stars because it was better than “okay,” but I didn’t one hundred percent “like” it, either.