That’s Not What Happened
Author: Kody Keplinger
Six survived to tell the story, but who knows the truth?
It’s the three-year anniversary of the Virgil County High School Massacre. The reporters are long gone. The blood of those lost is long gone. The memories still walk through the hallways of the school. Lee’s best friend Sarah, one of the victims, is still hailed as a martyr by the town, but Lee knows the truth. She didn’t die proclaiming her faith. Lee was there, next to her, when she died.
She didn’t say anything then, but now, on the eve of graduating from high school, she wants to tell the truth about what really happened that day. She’s ready to. With the contributions of the other survivors about that day and how it’s affected them, she hopes to enlighten everyone to the real feelings and stories of that horrific day.
Except Sarah’s martyrdom is important to the town. It’s even driven one of the massacre survivors away. Lee knows that when she starts this journey to share the truth about that horrific day that still gives her nightmares and sleepless nights every year around the anniversary, she runs the risk of being driven out as well. But, the guilt of having remained silent has been heavy. She can’t be silent any longer, even though every new piece of information makes her question whether she should speak out.
This review is info/possibly spoiler worthy. Just letting you know.
I’ve been a fan of Keplinger since I read The DUFF. I think that’s the book that makes everybody a fan of her. I got excited when this book came into our bookstore. It’s so different from other books she’s written. There’s a darker, more tragic layer to this high school ride.
A school shooting. The most popular one we know and always flash back to is Columbine, and since they’ve grown in frequency.
West Nickel Mines Amish School – 2006
Virginia Tech – 2007
Sandy Hook – 2012
Santa Monica College – 2013
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – 2018
Santa Fe High School – 2018
And so many more have impacted our country and how safe we feel in a place of learning and a place that nobody ever imagines being targeted for such violence.
This book took a POV that was—what I believe to be—touchy. Our main character had a front row seat to the shooting and her best friend died right next to her. By all rights, she should be dead too. The only POV that could’ve possibly beat this one out and made me feel even more emotional and heartbroken would be that of the shooter’s. Also, Lee broke the fourth wall by talking to me (the reader). It was her and everyone else’s story. And there were parts she could share and some she just couldn’t bring herself to get out because it was too hard.
Lee made this experience, one that people who’ve never been through something like this, personal. Her emotions and those of the other survivors were intense and real. An event like this isn’t something you glamorize and I don’t think Keplinger did that. She approached a school shooting with perspectives of kids who had suffered from it and were trying to survive its aftermath. The way she explored that aftermath was gut-wrenching with no holding back. Everybody deals with tragedy differently and she did well expressing that by using Lee’s project to get letters on their feelings about the shooting and those lost from it.
The trauma of the shooting wasn’t the only subject approached either. Sexuality had a place here, with Lee’s asexuality and Eden being gay. It’s not that it was up front, made to look just planted in. Not the case at all. It was completely natural and in Lee’s case, still being sorted out. I was so there for it! Well done! Bra-freaking-va! Sexuality is diverse and isn’t something to be given gold stars or special treatment. It’s just a part of life we need to address for ourselves, and it doesn’t need mass amounts of attention from the world. The only people it should draw attention to are those involved on a personal level. That’s just me though. Keplinger did a fantastic job with the way she wrote it into the story.
Another subject addressed? The setting of the book. Virgil is a poor town. It’s not said outright, but sprinkled throughout the book and I am so glad! I’m from a poor, shitty town that struggles economically and it was nice to see something real like this. Many towns across the country are this way. Many books I’ve read express a sense of endless monetary means. That’s not the case here and I really liked that.
The style was really unique. While we are following Lee’s POV for the most part, we get glimpses into the lives and thoughts of others—Denny, Miles, Ashley, Eden, and Kelly. This was well spread out and concise. The support system they had for each other was astounding. The writing was filled to the brim with emotion reflecting hurt, selfishness, desperation, and guilt. I was wracked.
This book was pretty moving for me. This was a book I wasn’t expecting. Keplinger has always surprised me. With perfectly timed humor and swelling emotions, she got me good. It was so different than many books I’ve read. Struck me like lightning with many emotions at once. Dark, scary at times, and brave.
“I wake up every morning with death on my mind.” (Lee, p. 3)
“Maybe some truths are better left buried.” (Lee, p. 2)
“Look, you don’t have to see things to be traumatized them…” (Lucas, p. 54)
“Maybe I looked normal, but so had the guy who brought a gun into my school.” (Lee, p. 152)
I credit these sites for informing me:
More to come soon…
P.S. Song today? Better Days by Goo Goo Dolls.
Thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.