books and reading

If We Had Known

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As much as I want to say that I relate to characters in books, it’s only partly true. I can empathize and understand, but to say I see myself in them is pretty rare. I can see myself in small ways, like characters who like to read, sure, that’s something I can relate to. But for a character to really get into my soul is rare. Cath of Fangirl certainly did. Aza in  Turtles All the Way Down definitely hit close to home. But I can’t think of a book that has hit me more than this one.

I used to teach high school English. Every time students turned in a paper, I knew one of them would be difficult to read. Usually a girl, but not always. I’ve read about abortions, rapes, assaults, and abuse. Each time, I would take the paper to the counselor and report what I had found. In all cases but one, the counselor was already aware and my responsibility ended there. The one case, though, I had to report to the authorities.

So, when a college teacher hears one of her former students has entered a mall, killed people, then killed himself, she is immediately reminded of what an unusual person he was. Not rude, but straight-forward. Didn’t seem to relate to her other students. And his final paper was about guns. Not exactly threatening, so she didn’t do anything about it. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Combined with her daughter, who has anxiety, as I do, this book just seeped into my world.

So, who is at fault? After Parkland, we learned that people had reported the shooter many times to no avail. So, it seems crazy that one teacher who didn’t turn in a paper about guns and hunting would shoulder all the blame. But in today’s world, this is exactly what can happen. Because the shooter is dead and we have to make sense of the senselessness, people are blamed: the NRA, the mental health world, the gun sellers, video games, violent music, the people surrounding the shooter who were unable to stop him, etc. To single out one of these is irresponsible and narrow-minded and won’t solve the problem. So, I felt for this poor teacher and what she had to go through. Judgment calls are made every day. The kid’s mother didn’t report him. The kids in the class didn’t report him. His co-workers didn’t report him. Other teachers didn’t report him. But this one teacher got the brunt of the blame. To stop this mass shooting epidemic, we have to dig deeper, stop pointing fingers AFTER the fact, and be more proactive and realistic about the problem. I’m not sure if the author wrote this to incite this kind of discussion, but it seems like as good of a time as any to do so.

I was really impacted by this book. I’m not sure everyone will be as much, though. As a teacher, as a person with anxiety, this book really dug into me and made me feel a lot of things that most books don’t. There are plenty of issues about parental divorce and abandonment, verbally abusive situations, and eating disorders, so be warned. But I really recommend this one.

By befictional

On Twitter @befictionreview

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