[This Is Where It Ends] Marieke Nijkamp

I think this cover is really simplistically beautiful.

I think this cover is really simplistically beautiful.

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.

Advertisements

2 Comments

  1. I am glad that you put a link to here, to encourage discussion. I am not much of a reviewer. I either like a book, don’t like it, or love it so much, that I want a series of thousand page books about the same characters and storylines. This book was short, a quick and simple read and I enjoyed it. It did not send me looking for other books by this author. I understand, I think, that the text messages were to extend the idea of what is happening to those with a stake in the situation, yet not present. If that is true, then there should have been more, but the book was too short for more texts to be added without more development of the characters and their connections to the school. I also thought that maybe the short and simple format was a way to get more people to read it, that normally wouldn’t. That though would make it more of a PSA or awareness exercise. We are all very aware of these violent acts, so I concluded, that is not the case. I also don’t see us truly understanding this kind of situation. I think not even the shooters really know all of the reasons behind such actions. We get that some of it is reaction to real or perceived abuses or mistreatment against the perpetrators, but it has to be way more complex than that. I am not a great literary brain. I am a rather simple person that appreciates others that do so well at explaining why a book worked or not. I have read enough school shooting books for now. If someone can write a book solving this and the other social ills that we as a society suffer, that is a book I want to read. Otherwise, I think I will stick to the news for what is happening in the world and keep my books in the arena of personal entertainment. Having said that, let me clarify that news contains a lot of fiction in the guise of speculation and that fiction contains a lot of truth in the guise of fiction. I enjoyed your review and your insight on this novel. You did a great review and explained your reasoning very well, without just trying to do clever put downs or gushing. I did not think it a “heartless” review at all.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! I appreciate you taking the time to respond here, too!

      I completely agree; this book doesn’t make me want to read more by this author. It does give us some things to think about regarding school shootings and how we don’t always know why, but I think that it really only scratches the surface. I felt such a disconnect from all of the characters, which was disappointing, because characterization is something that I really like to read.

      I personally think that fictional accounts of social issues are a great way to teach people about them and often serve as a way to grow personally—for example, there are things I never thought that I would be reading and thinking about until I first read them in books. Authors who can take a complex issue and write it in a way that gets a discussion going are wonderful. That said, when an important issue like the one focused on in this book doesn’t go deeper than the surface, I feel frustrated and kind of cheated. I automatically expect more from the book, which means I look at it a little harsher than a novel with a completely fictionalized setting like some of the fantasy young adult books I read.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s