Book Review. That’s not what happened by Kody Keplinger
I’ve read quite a few school shooting books recently. Only Child by Rhiannon Navin, This is not where it ends by Marieke Nijkamp, All the Hidden Truths by Clare Askew and Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips (although technically this last one was at a Zoo).
I’m not sure whether this is a response to the huge slew of American school shootings but there seem to be more and more of them coming out of the woodwork and the one thing they do, which I approve, is tell the story of the victims. They do not make the protagonist of the story the killer.
In this way these books are taking away the power of the shooter and, unlike the media, focus on what truly matters- the ruined lives of the survivors.
In That’s not what happened, the writer goes even further and refuses to even mention the shooter by name.
I thought this was a brilliant way to handle it. The shooter’s identity and his reasons are irrelevant. His part in the narrative almost incidental. We don’t know or care why he did what he did; it’s the aftermath that is important. It’s the nightmares and the PTSD, it’s the lies and the way society deals with this that is the real story.
We are told that six people survived the shooting. Leanne/Lee (our premier narrator), Ashley (shot in the lower back and now confined to a wheelchair), Eden (who hid under a table while her baby cousin was gunned down), Denny (the black blind boy who was shot in the shoulder), Miles (who knocked down and saved Ashley’s life) and Kellie (shot in the shoulder).
The story takes places three years after the shooting on the anniversary where three of our survivors are coming to graduation and Lee realises that they will be the final people who truly know what happened that day before it is passed off into legend.
Lee wants to tell the truth about what happened in the bathroom but that truth is not something that the town wants to hear. We pick up the story as Lee tries to get her fellow survivors to tell the stories of those who were shot and what actually happened that day.
It’s a fascinating tale, twisted and honest as we get to know the survivors from the letters and the eyes of the people around them.
I do have to admit that you kind of guessed what the secrets were as you were going along and it wasn’t all that revelatory but the way the steps were laid out, each letter felt like someone confessing their darkest secrets. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style as each character felt different and you could hear their individual voices.
I also really appreciated the diversity of characters. We have an asexual narrator, a lesbian, a black disabled character and I felt that each one was handled with dignity. Those traits i.e. being black, asexual etc, were just part of their character. It wasn’t made a huge deal out of. It was just who they were and it didn’t feel like these had been added in to check boxes.
The book also had some great scenes about PTSD and the survivor’s guilt which isn’t something usually handled in YA books. It was quite emotional to read and I could see how some of those scenes could trigger people who have had a similar experience.