I’ve decided to dispense with stars for this one. I couldn’t rate This Is Where It Ends easily on a scale from one to five. The subject matter is too intense to give it a glib score. Instead, I thought I’d go over what I liked and what, if anything, could have been improved. Remember, I’m attempting this from a writer’s perspective rather than going on pure emotion.
But pure emotion is a good place to start. I give the author, Marieke Nijkamp, a lot of respect for tackling such a tough contemporary subject. When I think about writing about topics such as bullying, assault, or school shootings, my first thought is that it would be too emotional, too real. I’m a teacher and I live close to Newtown where the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting occured. And I have to say, for me the book was not an easy read. I was swept up in the narrative and suspense, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. I wanted to grab a trashy romance after and escape from reality.
From a craft level, I thought the author’s use of time created tension and suspense. The chapters were done in multiple perspectives but they also contained a time stamp that advances in small increments. The book starts with Chapter One going from 10:01 to 10:02 am. Most of the book takes place in an hour. The pacing was spot on except, as a reader, I was frustrated by the portrayal of the police. It seemed to take them FOREVER to get to the school and start doing something.
I loved the use of multiple perspectives, but had issues with some of the characters. A few came across with too similar in voice, and I had to keep checking names until I learned who was who. Others too stereotypcial. Even though some characters came across as the rebel or artsy student, they all had huge problems outside school that no one seemed to notice or care about.
Spoiler alert. Don’t read on if you don’t want to learn some of the details. For example Autumn and her brother lost their mother less than two years ago. Their father started drinking and beating on them. No one does anything. Sylv’s mother has been diagnosed with what sounds like early onset Alzheimer’s. In addition, Sylv is sexually assaulted, but she doesn’t tell anyone. Her brother guesses at what might be wrong but does nothing except explain how she pushed him away that year and he wished he knew why. Finally, Sylv and Autumn are a couple, but can’t let anyone know because the school wouldn’t accept them as gay. Only one other student has come out and it doesn’t sound like it went well.
This caused a couple problems. While I understand that backstory is required to build to the shooter’s motivation, everyone involved with the shooter had an incredibly chaotic life. At times this made it hard to wrestle with both understanding the shooter and the character’s backstories. A lesser problem I had was the author has many characters talk about the school, Opportunity High and what a great place it is, but most of the things readers learn directly contradict that it is a great place full of opportunity.
While I didn’t like all the characters, I did like the use of multiple perspectives. It made the single hour portrayed in the novel captivating, tense, and heartbreaking for the reader. Along with the multiple perspectives, there were texts. I thought the texts were an interesting idea, but could have been taken further. They seemed like extras rather than an important part of the story.
There is one perspective the reader does not get. The shooter, and I was left wondering why? Readers understand the thoughts and feeling of those who know him (his sister, ex-girlfriend, tormentor, etc), who were part of his life, and in some way pushed him into action, but we never get his thoughts. The shooter’s thoughts would have added a much needed layer to the story.
Worth the read. Absolutely. But only when you’re having a really good day!