Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Interview: Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown is the author of the controversial young adult novel, Hate List. This emotional YA book deals with the traumatic experiences revolving around a school shooting, offering a glimpse into the minds of everyone involved and blurring the lines between bullies and victims. Jennifer stopped by Nikola's Book Blog to chat about the book.

What was the overall reaction to your book?
So far, the reaction that I've been seeing most is that it's making people stop and really think. I've also heard from a lot of people that the end is a bit of a tearjerker. I'm really glad it's making people think. I like books that make me think, so it feels good to have written my favorite kind of book. It's not a light read, emotionally, but is worth investing yourself in the end.

Hate List deals with the all-too familiar topic of school shootings. Were you inspired by a real-life school shooting, and did you research them in order to write the book?
No, Hate List was not inspired by any particular school shooting. In fact, I held off on researching school shootings until after I'd written my first draft because I didn't want to be influenced by the particulars of any specific shooting. It was definitely a weird way to do research -- write the book first and then go back and research and change things according to what I learned during my research -- but it was the process that felt right to me during the writing of this book.
Hate List is more about the main character's emotional journey than it is about the shooting itself, so the bulk of my research (all done before I started writing) was along the lines of finding out what my main character would be experiencing emotionally and how those feelings would manifest.

What do you think makes these young people decide to execute such a terrible thing?
Wow, I wish there was a cut-and-dried answer to this question. Certainly knowing the answer would be the first step in preventing school shootings from ever happening again, which would be a wonderful thing. My sense is that there are a lot of possible answers to this question. The easiest answers are, of course, that they're bullied and are outcasts or that they're just plain evil. But I don't really like either of those answers. I think those answers are too easy and, quite frankly, aren't fair to either the shooter or the victims. Or their families, for that matter. I think we can all agree that a young person who shoots up a school is a very troubled individual. But how they got so troubled... is a much tougher question to answer. And why they dealt with it by killing? Again, I just don't think there's a pat answer for that.

Valerie, the protagonist of Hate List, is both an accomplice and a victim. Would you elaborate on this?
Valerie is guilty of two things: Starting a "hate list" of people she hated, and not seeing that her boyfriend, Nick, was going to act on that Hate List by killing people. Because she was the one who started the list and even encouraged Nick by talking about how cool it would be for those people to just not exist anymore, she is an accomplice of sorts to the shooting. But the problem is... to Valerie... it was all just talk. Not real. A way to blow off steam. She never meant for any of those people to actually die. And now, with Nick gone, she has to "pay the price" for the hate list, which is now very public. She also gets shot while trying to stop Nick. So she stops the shooting she inadvertently set into motion with the list. She's both hero and villain, which has got to be a really tough spot to be in.

What have you been up to lately? Writing a new book, perhaps?
I am working on a new YA project. It will be similar in tone to Hate List, but a very different subject, of course. I kind of have this weird superstition about giving out details of a writing project before it's been written, so... *makes zipper over mouth motion*...


Jenny said...

Great interview! Sounds like an interesting book.

Laura Fabiani said...

Interesting interview about a very emotional subject and every parent's nightmare. Hate List sounds like a good read. Having the protagonist see the results of what she considered a just-for-fun game is a pointed message that actions, even small ones, can set the wheel in motion for unexpected violence. Thanks for bringing this author to our attention.

Jessica (BookLover) said...

I love reading author interviews! Thank you so much for sharing.
I haven't read Hate List, but now I want to.

I have an award for you. :)

Nikola said...

Thanks Jessica, I'll post about it ASAP! :)

Vivienne said...

Fab interview. I have Hate List on my TBR list.

Nikola said...

Thanks Vivienne!