This Is Where It Ends is a harrowing YA novel about a school shooting that takes place in real time over 54 minutes.
Let’s bitch it out…
First up, a quick Caveat: I was provided an advanced copy by NetGalley in exchange for a review. The book itself will be published Jan 5, 2016.
Upon reflection, This Is Where It Ends reminds me a little of If I stay. Both are YA novels centered around personal tragedies, both are mildly (or explicitly) marketed to female readers, both feature first person narrators and both are heavily reflective / flashback driven.
There’s something about a mass shooting, particularly a school shooting, that seizes the collective psyche, especially in this day and age. There’s a definite timeliness to This Is Where It Ends, which explores a diverse selection of teens respond to a shooter who goes on a massacre on the first day of school. The teens embody a broad spectrum of types in terms of ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender, which is a definite plus. The multiple perspectives are refreshingly inclusive, especially two main characters in a lesbian relationship who are at the center of the conflict. Each character is also fixed to particular geographic location when the shooting begins (on the track field, in the principal’s office, in the auditorium when the shooter is, etc) and by jumping back and forth between the different perspectives, Nijkamp is able to build and defuse the tension as required by the demands of the narratives.
As mentioned, the real time aspect of the novel is another novelty and it ends up both working for and against the book. By restricting the narrative to such a brief period of time (54 minutes), the realities and the stakes of the shooting are all the more gripping and traumatic, but at times the description of the violence, the bodies and the agony borders on sensational and gratuitous. A few other readers comment on the book being mildly divisive in this regard and it’s easy to see why: some people will dig into the plot because it is a rollercoaster ride and you want to find out who comes out alive. On the other hand, many of the descriptions evoke strong reactions and individuals touched by gun violence will likely have difficulty getting through certain passages in the auditorium.
This all makes This Is Where It Ends sound like it’s just about the shooting, which isn’t fair to Nijkamp. There’s an investigative aspect to the story too, because we never get inside Ty, the shooter’s head. Instead we learn about his troubled history and how he connects to each of the characters via their history with him. It is these relationships that drive the narrative forward, condensing several years of experiences that led to, and in some cases even anticipate, the shooting.
Overall I enjoyed the majority of the book. It is a very quick read, so it’s easy to sit down and power through large chunks at a time. This can be helpful because some of the characters can be a little difficult to distinguish and they tend to blur together if you’re not reading regularly. Their experiences may be very different, but the individual voices aren’t distinguished enough, particularly Claire, the girl who runs track and used to date Tyler. Part of the difficulty to remember Claire may also be because she ends up being the most extraneous and least involved character, despite providing some key insights into who Tyler was when they were dating.
My other issues are SPOILERS (so consider yourself warned):
I was really frustrated by the end of the book. Not only does Claire feel peripheral for the most part, but when her handicapped brother Matt is killed, it feels like nothing more than emotional manipulation. Matt barely exists on his own except as a sympathetic character who might as well be a saint. When he is accidentally shot by Tyler and essentially dies in Autumn’s hands it feels like emotional blackmail of the highest order.
Tomas’ sacrifice falls into the same category. Despite being a main character, his decision to engage Tyler directly seems arbitrary and unwarranted given all of the talk about police storming the school and SWAT teams en route. There’s no clear sense that Tomas, Sylv and Fareed are in danger on the roof (Tyler will find them eventually, yes, but Tomas seemingly just abandons his sister so that he can have a showdown with Tyler). It simply doesn’t make sense for Tomas to re-enter the school and confront an armed nemesis…except for the fact that his death makes for a more emotional resolution.
And then there’s Autumn. The entire book centers around her desperate desire to escape Opportunity via her dancing and how her talent and ambition unites her to some (Sylv) and ostracizes her from others (her brother and father). I get why it’s such a shock for her brother to shoot her in the knee, but after already threatening to do so earlier and then backing down, this feels like an afterthought. Again, there’s no real reason to end the book on this sour note except to keep Autumn and Sylv together and reinforce how terrible their lives are as their dreams are forfeited. Is this Nijkamp’s attempt to deliver a dose of measured realism for her teen audience? Perhaps, but after enduring so many visceral shooting experiences in under 300 pages, finishing the novel with the death of one main character and the death of another’s career felt more than a little sadistic.
Perhaps it would be a different story had the story ended with an epilogue that takes place later than the following night. It would have been interesting to learn more about how the shooting changed everyone. Instead the novel ends on a mildly saccharine note with a (literally) uplifting message that the students and teachers will remember their fallen and persevere. If Nijkamp is shooting (pun intended) for a cathartic ending that hints at brighter days to come, why bother punishing two of her main characters so unnecessarily? END SPOILERS
Overall, This Is Where It Ends is a quick, fast read with a nicely inclusive blend of characters. The topic remains incredibly topical and the narrative evokes a lot of visceral reactions. By focusing so much on the actual shooting with the real time structure, however, at times the novel sensationalizes the shooting without properly considering its ramifications.
This Is Where It Ends will be released by Sourcebooks Fire on January 5, 2016.