Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Book Review: This is Where it Ends

I know these people. I know these people. I know these people.

This was the resonating thought I had while reading This is Where it Ends, the devastingly beautiful book by Marieke NijkampI know these people.

I don’t just mean that in the sense that writing makes you feel so ingrained in these characters lives that you feel you know them on an intimate level. It’s a true statement definitely. Nijkamp gives each character a livable and lived-in backstory and makes each character feel vibrant and alive in their own ways. But this isn’t what I mean.

Some of these characters feel plucked out of my own life, to a frustrating and heartbreaking degree, which makes this book that much more painful, and on some level, that much more important.

This is Where it Ends is a story that plucks us right in the middle of an impossible to imagine scenario that unfortunately happens all to often; a school shooting. All the events happen in the length and breadth of a school rampage being perpetrated by a former student of Opportunity High School, Tyler.

The story itself is told by a handful of students' first person accounts, but also through text messages, tweets, and blogs, but mainly focuses on the perspectives of Clare, Tomas, Autumn, and Sylvia. Each is entangled in Tyler’s life in their own fraught way. Clare is an ex-girlfriend, Tomas an enemy, Autumn a sister, and Sylvia the sister’s girlfriend and the enemy’s sister. Each has had a role to play antagonizing Tyler in varying degrees and being antagonized in return.   And it is made very clear very early on, each has a lot to lose and will lose much in a short amount of time.

And the thing that startled me the most was that there was an analog in my own life for just about every character. Clare’s brother Matthew, Tomas, Kevin (who barely spoke a word but had such a lived-in backstory I knew exactly who he was), the English Teacher, his daughter and her blog. 

(Sure, there were a few who I didn't have analogs for, Farid, and Sylvia, but they were so well created and such unique characters that I really wish I have versions of them in my life. Farid especially for reasons to deep and numerous to mention.) 

But the thing that made itself the most clear and also scared me the most is that I knew exactly who Autumn and Tyler were.  The relationship of a brother and sister surviving a traumatic and abusive household who were at once each other’s port in the storm and also each other’s worst enemy is a relationship I’ve witnessed up close and it is utterly heartbreaking.

The character of Tyler was especially upsetting because the analog of Tyler was someone I was once very close too but whose destructive qualities I was too familiar with and ultimately had to break ties.  The version of Tyler I knew never went on a rampage, thank God. But the capability was there.  The need for revenge, and always having something to prove was too close to the surface.

Sadly, the Tyler analog I knew died. And just as sad, there’s probably a lot of Tylers out there, lost and confused, and several Autumns and Clares and Tomas’s, just as lost and confused looking for some sort of anchor in the storm.

Which is why I find this story so important and worthwhile. The point of the whole book is that we are supposed to band together to be each other’s port in the storm instead of floating apart from one another, isolated and alone.  

It took a tragedy for the characters in this book to realize that. Sadly, it takes tragedy after tragedy for us to realize that. And even worse, sometimes we still don’t realize it.

But the power of this book is it gives us a close-up view of such a thing with the hopes that we will never have to live it ourselves, that maybe we can recognize the Tylers amongst us and accept them, love them, help them before it’s too late.

This is an incredible, heartbreaking story that is well-crafted, exquisitely told and has a message that is so important I’m going to be singing its praises for a long time. As I said on twitter, this book is so good I told my mom to read it and that might be the highest praise I can give a book. So please read it.