“This is Where It Ends” tackles an all too-frequent phenomenon in American society — that of school shootings. This particular fictional incident takes place in the auditorium of Opportunity High, Alabama, where the shooter has locked in the majority of the student body before he begins his deathly rampage at 10:05 a.m.
The book covers the hour of horror that follows from a multitude of perspectives. On the one hand, this gives the reader a sense of gripping urgency, as you experience the panic, fear and confusion right along with the students. On the other hand, this immediate style of narration does not give you a chance to get to know any of the characters in-depth, and initially leaves you confused as you try to figure out who is who and how they are connected to the perpetrator. Furthermore, it doesn’t allow you to really get ‘into’ the story — meaning that you really only experience a surface-level reading of the book, instead of delving deeper into the issues.
At times, the book also seems like it’s trying to check off a diversity list — lesbian dancer, Afghan immigrant, lupus-sufferer — but I’m going to give the author the benefit of the doubt here, as I think this issue is another victim of the particular narrative style, where you don’t get enough insight into what it is that makes these people tick.
Another unfortunate flaw of the book is that the perpetrator is depicted as a kind of cartoonish villain. His motivations are flimsy, his actions are overly-dramatic and he came across as an overall sociopath. And while it’s arguable that many school shooters are sociopaths, I would have liked to have seen the thought process that led to this moment, and his decision-making, because he appeared fairly one-dimensional.
On the plus side, the author was skilled at showcasing panic — the utterly random, inane things you think of or notice when you’re in a life or death situation; the sheer helplessness of those who can do nothing but watch and listen. The randomness of it all.
“Relief and sorrow follow each other rapidly, because with the names of those who live comes the void of those who have not…There are no words in that fleeting moment between hope and knowledge.”
It’s a topical read, fast-paced, dark and devastating, but one which could have had more of an emotional punch.
ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.