The Virgil County High School Massacre changed the lives of Lee and many others in her community. And three years after the massacre and when her best friend was killed, Lee decides she must speak up against the falsehoods published about the shooting.
Specifically on her best friend Sarah’s story–that she died proclaiming her faith. The story that Sarah’s parents are publishing a book about her, the story that people got hurt because of.
This might be Lee’s last chance to set the record straight . . . but she’s 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 Lee’s doing. And the more she learns, the less certain she is about what’s right.
Okay, so I have a lot of mixed feelings on this book.
I think this was pretty well written and was a lot less shocking than Marieke Nijkamp’s This Is Where It Ends, which felt a little like it turned something as horrible as a school shooting into entertainment. I mean, the premise of this book is more about the aftermath than the actual shooting and how people can interpret things differently, but I also felt like this still sort of capitalized on other people’s pain.
That’s Not What Happened examines how the media can distort the truth and whether or not the truth needs to be told. And although it might not be like Nijkamp’s novel and how it was fast-paced and action-packed to shock the reader, it still dealt a lot with the emotions school shooting survivors feel.
I still don’t really fully know my stance on this (this is a far greater topic than just one book), but support at your own risk, is what I’d call it. Even within novels that are actually written by survivors of school shootings, there’s controversy about white vs. POC voices being heard and promoted through the media.
But back to the book.
I do think Keplinger did her research with this, and disregarding my earlier point, I feel like she portrayed the manipulations of the media well–and this is something that doesn’t happen with just school shootings.
I thought the main character’s asexuality wasn’t portrayed badly and was appropriately subtle. The slight bit of romance was cute, but nothing that was the actual focus of the novel (very different from Keplinger’s older works).
And her message about the truth and not speaking for other people or preventing other peoples’ voices from being heard was a change in the main protagonist that I enjoyed.
I did think that the narrative structure–it’s all technically a compilation of letters about the shooting, with Lee adding the bulk of the story that connects the letters somewhat linearly–was a bit funky. It’s told in the past tense, but even when Lee writes flashbacks, it’s in the past tense and not the past perfect, which I found to be a little confusing if you weren’t paying attention to when Lee began to narrate the flashback
I thought the mystery about what happened in the bathroom could have been played up more, but I actually liked how it wasn’t because it took the focus off of the shooting and more on the people. Similarly, I liked how it never actually told us the shooter’s name and blocked it out because that’s not what the story is about.
Overall, I do think it’s worth the read, but I also wonder on where we draw the line for letting people write for other peoples’ pain or other peoples’ experiences. I did find this to be accurate and nothing as drastic as other young adult novels on school shootings.
I’d recommend you check this out if the premise intrigues you! It might not be super gripping or entertaining, but it provides a valuable stance on a topic through a fictional circumstance.
Thank you so much to Scholastic @ Book Con for providing me with an advance reader’s copy!