Saturday, 2 January 2016

'This Is Where It Ends' by Marieke Nijkamp - SPOILER FREE REVIEW

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Sourcefire Books, for allowing me to review this book on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 
"Do you know that the light we see really means we're looking back at history?"
"Does that mean we're in the future?" Trace laughed. 
"No. We're at exactly the right place, at exactly the right time."
'This Is Where It Ends' tells the story of a school shooting over 54 minutes, told through four perspectives: Claire, the shooter's ex-girlfriend; Autumn, his sister; Sylvia, Autumn's girlfriend; and Tomas, Sylvia's twin brother. Autumn and Sylvia have just attended the start of semester assembly and are trapped in the auditorium when the shooting begins, but Tomas was in detention and Claire was at track practice, so both of them are on the outside desperately trying to get help. 
I've read a few books based on the topic of school shootings (most memorably 'Come Sit By Me' by Thomas Hoobler, and 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' by Lionel Shriver) but this was by far the most engaging and emotionally involving. The concept wasn't revolutionary - nothing happened that I hadn't read before - but the way it was handled was sensitive and beautiful.
The thing is... I really want to go into this book in detail. I really want to discuss everything that I felt, gush over how happy I am with the narrative choices that Marieke Nijkamp made and how much I cared for each of the characters that we were introduced to. But I'm not going to.
This book is much more effective if you don't know exactly what is going to happen. There were a few things in there that surprised me, and there were a few inevitable fatalities that tore my heart apart, but if I'd known about them before I don't think I would have invested myself as wholly in the story. It's based on a school shooting so tragedy and death were unavoidable occurrences, and it was stupid of me to care about the characters as strongly and as completely as I did, but Marieke writes such convincing people that it's impossible not to feel attached almost instantly.
With novels that feature multiple perspectives, sometimes the differences between the characters aren't well-defined and they don't feel like individuals, but this is not a problem that 'This Is Where It Ends' suffers with. All of the voices are so strong and separate from each other that it's extremely easy to tell which chapters are focused on who; there's no ambiguity. While the themes connect the characters (all of the perspectives have siblings involved in the shootings, and obviously survival is a very strong motive for everyone) their back stories and their connections with Tyler are all extremely different, and they're all three-dimensional and well-rounded. The added layer of the relationship between Autumn and Sylvia is also brilliantly written, and it's so nice to read a diverse book that doesn't focus on its diversity: the multiple ethnicities and the mixture of sexualities aren't the point of the novel, it's just a good representation of the mixture of kids that attend high school across America.
As well as the four perspectives, there are also different forms of writing incorporated into the telling, which add to the realism of the situation. There's CJ, who is locked in the auditorium live tweeting everything that happens; Jay, who skipped school and it tweeting to attempt to get in touch with his friend; Mei, whose father works at the school and who blogs from home about the ongoing situation; and Matt, who texts his sister, Claire, throughout the hostage situation. The desperation in the voices, the press contacting those outside of the situation, and the hashtags and consolations flooding in from various Twitter users - it adds that something extra that really pushed this into being the best book based on a school shooting I'd ever read.
It genuinely feels like something that could happen. With the time rapidly ticking away, and the knowledge that the book only takes place over fifty-four minutes, it adds something primal - adrenaline pulses the entire time that you read this book, and it's extremely difficult to put it down. I enjoyed it that much that after the New Year's Eve countdown in my local pub, when all of my friends were buying in more rounds of drinks and toasting to 2016, I'd sneaked my Kindle out on my lap and was rapidly devouring the last few chapters.
This might be a debut novel, but Marieke Nijkamp has already established herself as a force to be reckoned with. I can't recommend this book more strongly if you want to read something genuine, realistic and entirely, utterly human.
I'm so glad this was the first book I finished in 2016. 

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