Book Review: This is Where It Ends

This Is Where It Ends
Published By: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Page Count: 292
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience: Young Adult - Contemporary

This is Where It Ends is the story of a mass shooting at a small town Alabama school told through the eyes of four students who were connected to the shooter. Obviously, this was a difficult book. In some ways, it reminded me of Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins, but where Mockingjay tackles the evil of war, This is Where It Ends takes on school shootings. I loved the book because it says something important about life in our society, but because the topic is so raw and difficult, it is hard to “like” the book. 

What I most appreciate about this book is that Nijkamp did not take the “easy” road with this story. In the United States, it seems like the aftermath of school shootings often devolves into a fight over whether the gun is the problem or whether the shooter was mentally ill. It was refreshing that Nijkamp, perhaps by virtue of being European, avoided that either/or debate. Through the narrators’ accounts and their memories of previous interactions with Tyler, the shooter, Nijkamp explores the complex reasons and experiences that lead him to commit his horrible crime. Tyler is at once both a violent, disturbed young man and a victim of some of his circumstances (none of which is used to excuse his behavior, but rather to explain it more fully). 

 Tyler’s descent into violence is told from the viewpoint of Autumn (Tyler’s sister), Claire (Tyler’s ex-girlfriend), Sylv (Autumn’s girlfriend), and Tomás (Sylv’s brother). With four viewpoints the story could have become confusing, but Nijkamp handled the narrative threads well. It also helped that each chapter begins with a time stamp. My only wish was that Autumn, Claire, Sylv and Tomás’s individual voices were more distinct. Sylv does occasionally give some exclamations in Spanish, but for the most part the characters sound nearly identical. 

 Finally, Nijkamp did a great job of capturing electronic “voyeur” culture as well. Throughout This is Where It Ends, those who are not at the school are tweeting, emailing, and blogging their concerns as they try to get in touch with friends and family at the school. Strangers are commenting on the situation, sometimes supportive, sometimes trolling. Members of the media are trying to get comments from those connected to the hostages in the school. The electronic chatter adds to the immediacy of the story and makes it feel even more real. 

 Although I can’t say I “enjoyed” this book, I think it is an important contribution to YA literature. Despite being fictional, This is Where It Ends is well-researched and realistic. School shootings happen all too frequently, and a book that allows us to observe and think about how and why they happen, without having to live through it ourselves, is a good thing.

10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

The auditorium doors won't open.

Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.