In Opportunity, Alabama, Tyler Browne walks into his former high school on the first day of the spring semester. Most of the student population is in the auditorium for the welcome speech, and Tyler has locked everyone in. He has a gun and plenty of bullets, and his anger is overflowing.
This is a story that has – unfortunately – been all over the news for the last two decades. A student walks into a school with a gun and begins to shoot. People across the country or world react. Some pray. Some call for stricter gun laws. Some blame mental health care. Some look for terrorists. Some look for a reason. Everyone watches on, in fear or sympathy or horrified curiosity. Reporters shove microphones in front of victims and create news stories out of the best tales. Eventually the moment turns into a catch phrase or political ammunition.
And so, when I first heard about this book, I was intrigued but wary. I’ve read/seen too many “ripped from the headlines” books/movies/TV shows that simply capitalize on the news for good sales. I didn’t want to read a book that would come off as heavy-handed political fodder or that would glorify in a kind of morbid voyeurism. The tagline and cover lean toward this latter, and so I was most on the watch for that.
This wasn’t just another ripped from the headlines book. Told from four points of view and broken up by blog entries, emails, twitter logs, and other sundry bits, this tells the story of a mass shooting from inside and out. It does not treat the event like a video game, where the violence has no consequences, nor does it get up on a soapbox about gun laws and other political points. Nijkamp handled this very explosive subject matter with tact and delicacy. No one is a flat character, not even the shooter, who is seen through so many different eyes with so many different histories and experiences. There is pointless death, and heroic actions, and cowardly actions, and stupid mistakes, and misplaced anger, and immediate suspicion of the Muslim kid, and homophobia, and…so on. It is a very round book, seen from many angles, and allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions and thoughts, and given my initial wariness, this was what impressed me most.