Title: That's Not What Happened
Author: Kody Keplinger
Genre: YA Contemporary
Release Date: August 28th, 2018
Source: ARC received from publisher at ALA 2018 Annual Convention which did not influence my opinion in any way
My rating: 5 stars
It's been three years since the Virgil County High School Massacre. Three years since my best friend, Sarah, was killed in a bathroom stall during the mass shooting. Everyone knows Sarah's story--that she died proclaiming her faith.
But it's not true.
I know because I was with her when she died. I didn't say anything then, and people got hurt because of it. Now Sarah's parents are publishing a book about her, so this might be my last chance to set the record straight . . . but I'm not the only survivor with a story to tell about what did--and didn't--happen that day.
Except Sarah's martyrdom is important to a lot of people, people who don't take kindly to what I'm trying to do. And the more I learn, the less certain I am about what's right. I don't know what will be worse: the guilt of staying silent or the consequences of speaking up . . .
I don't know what it is, whether it is because I am a school librarian, used to be a teacher, etc., or what, but I am drawn to YA books about school shootings. I like that the majority of them tend to have something unique about them, something besides just telling what is a horrible story like the news would. I've read stories where we get to know the shooter. I've read stories about the siblings of the shooters. This book had two things that I really liked. First, I like that not once did they actually say the name of the shooter. One thing the character said they did not want to do was give that person any more attention or recognition. The other thing that I really liked about this was the whole theme or maybe you'd say its plot. I like that this book was looking at what really happened. Not the stories that get passed on to the media, by people who don't know what actually happened, or mistake what happened for something more inspiring or selfless than it may actually have been.
I always enjoy hearing the "real" story about historical events or people. You know, the things left out of textbooks, the things that don't sound good, or the things that would mess up everyone's love of a person or event if it was told. Those are the things that make people or events seem real to me. And this book does exactly that. It makes the people who survived real. Not saints, not SURVIVORS, but just real people, real kids. Even if one of the stories could possibly ruin another person's epiphany they had that caused them to change their life and be happier ever since the shooting. Even if one of the stories makes the person who has to tell it worried others won't look at him the same, that they'll see him as a coward instead of the hero that the original story makes him out to be.
The book makes you think though, in the end, with a girl who has passed away, is it such a good thing to ruin the image that her family and countless others in the community may have now taken as something that can be salvaged from such a horrible event? I don't know. That's a hard one. But you have to also think about if that image, that story, has ruined the life of someone else who tried to tell the truth of that situation. In that case, it might have been good thing to not let the wrong story take on quite the life that it did.
Of course there are similarities to the real school shootings that have occurred. But I don't feel that the author meant in any way to call into question those real people. I think she was just giving examples that would make the story seem real.
This was an intense story, a sad story, and even an inspirational story in its own way. One I recommend and will purchase for my school library.
One last thing, I have to share the picture of me with the author when I met her and got my copy of the book at the ALA convention this summer.