Sunday (Thursday?) Reading - Mercy Rule
Of all the books I've read, or tried to read, so far this year one stands out as a favorite. Mercy Rule by Tom Leveen is a rich tapestry of a tragedy unfolding before your eyes. It's the story of a school shooting, and you just can't tell who's going to live, who's going to die, and who's going on a killing spree until you see it happen.
I know, I know. I'm a 40-something year old adult. And I'm about to talk about a contemporary YA novel, and try to tell you why it's my favorite of the year.
Well, part of that is I've got a teen in high school right now. The book is relevant to my interests as a parent.
Also, some things are just universal. Reading most of Tom Leveen's novels bring me right back to one of the worst periods of my life. High school. It was awkward, it was painful, it was brutal and unforgiving. Tom clearly remembers what it was like. More than that, he's obviously listening to modern teenagers.
See, while part of the growing up experience is universal to each generation, some parts are not. I did not grow up in an era of highly televised and almost constant school shootings. I did not grow up in an era of cell phones with cameras and internet access. I did not grow up in an era where all of my friends were online all the time. And, though Tom is also 40-something, he doesn't miss a beat with the repercussions of growing up with all of those things.
I almost immediately found a character I connected with. Someone I clicked with. Not a perfect fit, but close enough that I glommed onto her as a favorite. There's such a diversity of characters that I could almost put faces to each of the characters, thinking of which friend, enemy, or frenemy they reminded me of.
The characterization is flawless.
A lot of books will have you sympathizing with the underdog nerd, and hating a cardboard cut out jock. Well, a lot of readers are nerds, and a lot of writers are nerds, so it makes sense. Write what you know, right?
You walk away seeing all sides. The jock who is struggling to find food and clinging to sports just so he can escape. The shy girl who says nothing to anyone and is too afraid to make friends. The bubbly girl who somehow makes friends with everyone. Popular. Outcast. They're all treated equally. They all have stories. Shy, selfish, outgoing, honest, withdrawn, rejected, rich, poor...they're kids in a bad spot.
And one of these kids decides to make a permanent mistake. You can see the desperation building, and I had entirely too much empathy with the character who finally snapped. It was haunting. This was the sort of teenager I'd hung out with. This was a person I might have been.
In my brief review on Amazon, when the book was fresh in my mind, I'd said that the book was timely. Achingly timely. It was just a few days after a school shooting in Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018. In the line of work I was in at the time, I had a front row seat to the worst images from that incident. So, reading this book was cathartic to me. It let me grieve. It gave me a chance to cry in the privacy of my own home for kids that represented real teenagers. It helped me understand something that had felt too big and ominous to be grappled with. Since Sandy Hook, I'd had nightmares of this happening to my child. I still fear it, but this book helped me wrangle that fear into a form I could cope with.
You might not get that from this book. You might not need that from this book. I'm just saying that the magnitude of my appreciation for it stems from how it helped me.
I think Mercy Rule is an important, overlooked book. I can understand why, too. School shootings are a big, painful, scary, nebulous monster at this point. Nobody wants to look that in the eye, especially as recreational reading.
Do it anyway.
Trust me. Read this book.