This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp (eProof) - 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.
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. From Goodreads.
Although it's not the only YA novel about the subject of school shootings, when I first hears about This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp, I knew I had to read this particular book. Perhaps it was the cover, maybe the title, or that Nijkamp was writing a book about a terrible subject that has been horrifically prevalent in the US recently for her debut novel. All I know is I was drawn to this book, and I had to read it. And it was absolutely incredible.
It's the first day of a new semester at Opportunity High. Claire is running for track practise with her best mate Chris. Tomás got detention with his best friend Fareed, a reason to be in the Principle's Office to sneak through the student files during assembly. Tomás sister Sylv and her girlfriend Autumn are with the rest of the school in the auditorium listening to Principle Tankerton's speech for the new semester. No-one expects anything different from the day. But when assembly is over, there is a delay in leaving the auditorium. Most people don't know what's going on until they hear the doors are locked. And that's when the shooting begins.
I cannot even begin to tell you how brilliant this book is. It's absolutely terrifying. The specifics of This Is Where It Ends are fictional, but we hear so often about school shootings and massacres in the news, the situation isn't fictional, and as you're reading, this fact is at the forefront of your mind. The absolute terror of being in a school environment, in a place you've gone to to learn, and then not know if you're going to survive the next five minutes, when even the authority figures - the teachers and other school staff - are unable to keep you or themselves safe. Nijkamp paints a very clear, terrible picture, and you can quite easily imagine yourself as one of those students, trapped in that auditorium.
This Is Where It Ends is told from multiple perspectives, each person with a connection to the shooter, Tyler. Claire is Ty's ex-girlfriend, and her younger brother is in the auditorium. Autumn is Ty's sister. Ty wasn't happy with Autumn and Sylv's relationship, so had been threatening Sylv. Tomás was aware that Ty had been harassing Sylv in someway, which just increased the fighting between the two rivals. We also get text messages, tweets or blog posts at the end of each chapter from other characters those in the auditorium or outside, and it's great getting these brief glimpses, too.
What's brilliant is that Nijkamp manages to make us care about these characters, despite the story only taking place over 54 minutes. Each narrator has a story outside of the school; Autumn and Ty's mother died two years ago. She was a ballet dancer, and died in a car accident due to exhaustion. Autumn wants to follow in her footsteps, but her father has become an alcoholic and turned abusive since his wife's death, and would rather see Autumn dead than dancing. Sylv and Tomás' mother has some form of dementia. Sylv has always wanted to get out of Opportunity, and has the chance with a college acceptance, but with her mother so ill and in need of care, it doesn't look like she'll be able to. Tomás knows something is going on with Sylv; ever since last summer, she's been pushing him and others away, ever since Ty was caught threatening her outside of junior prom. He doesn't know what Ty did, but he changed his sister, and hates him for it. Claire's little brother, Matt, has lupus, and she's very protective of him. Her older sister Tracy is in the army, and Claire is conflicted about following suit. She wants to be just like her sister, but doesn't know if she's up to it.
As the 54 minutes tick by, we discover more about their individual stories, and they all come to a resolution. But we see the courage people can find within themselves when faced with such a horrific situation, the brave acts they will perform. When Claire and Chris hear the shots, Claire is the only one who has the wherewithal to take charge of her track team and coach and give out instructions on the best way to get help - it's her only way of coping with the fact that her little brother is in that auditorium and she can't get to him. Tomás and Fareed make sure the police are alerted, but when they're told to get out the school, they take it on themselves to try and help those trapped in the auditorium. Autumn and Sylv both have their courageous moments, though I won't say more for fear of spoiling the story. But whether the narrators are stuck in the auditorium or not, bravery comes in all shapes and forms, and they all have their incredible moments of strength. I was in complete awe of them all. I seriously don't know if I could do what any of them did, if I was in their position. They were unbelievable. And yes, again, this is just fiction, but there have been those who have shown incredible courage and strength in these situations, and This Is Where It Ends is a fantastic reminder that these wonderful, unbelievable people exist, and they save lives.
This Is Where It Ends is also wonderfully diverse. Tomás and Sylv are Latino, and Sylv and Autumn are queer (no label is ever given). Claire's brother Matt is disabled, Tomás friend Fareed is Afghan Muslim, and there are other secondary characters of other races who make an appearance. This Is Where It Ends shows the melting pot that high school is, with a whole host of diverse characters, united in fear.
I have to say something about the ending; it was so very emotional. It was heartbreaking, it was moving, and it was beautiful. I finished this book crying silently on the bus, left completely wiped out and bereft. I was blown away by the characters, by the story, and by Nijkamp's brilliant storytelling. This Is Where It Ends is an absolutely astounding debut novel, and I will not hesitate to read whatever Nijkamp writes in the future. This is a novel you need to add to your TBR piles right now.
Thank you to Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley for the eProof.
Published: 5th January 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Marieke Nijkamp's Website