Columbine by Dave Cullen

Title: Columbine
Author: Dave Cullen
Genre: Nonfiction / crime 

Rating: 4 / 5


Why I picked it up: Columbine was such a big deal when it happened (I was like 10 or 11), and I’m always kind of curious about things like that, that people say shaped a generation or define America or whatever (even if those claims aren’t true). My university library had this one, and I’d heard good things about it, so I picked it up. I read this one out loud to Peter.

What it’s about: This book deals with the event that happened to Columbine High School in 1999, about the lead up, the aftermath, and the handling of the event itself by multiple parties (shooters, SWAT/police, students).

What I liked: It was thorough. The book came out 10 years after the incident, and it’s fairly lengthy–400 pages, but it was a relatively large hardback book with a relatively small font. It seemed well-researched and it was engaging. I also appreciated the fact that the author did not try to sensationalize or sentimentalize the subject. I think it can be a fine line, trying to describe what happened without projecting the author’s emotions onto it (since of course it’s an emotional event). A lot of the information was interesting as well.

What I didn’t like: This isn’t necessarily something I “didn’t like” about the book itself, but it has been criticized by some, notably Brooks Brown, as having containing a lot of misinformation. He disagrees with Cullen about the level of bullying; basically, Cullen says that bullying was not a cause of the Columbine massacre, while Brown seems to think it is a cause. I don’t doubt that there was bullying at Columbine, and that it was likely worse than at my high school, but I tend to agree with Cullen that it’s not a cause. I think it’s important to take into account different views though, and Brown seems like a thoughtful guy in the AMA I linked so I think it’s worth mentioning.

Overall / recommended: I like this book and would recommend it not just for the insight into “why” it happened, but also what happened after. It’s an eye-opening look into how local police work (or don’t) and how a community deals with something so malicious and un-understandable. It isn’t happy reading and I would hesitate to call it “necessary” too, but if you’re interested in the topic I think it’s a really good place to start.


The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

Title: The Female of the Species
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Genre: Fiction / young adult

Rating: 4-4.5 / 5


Why I picked it up: I liked the cover and a couple of people I follow on Goodreads had rated it highly.

What it’s about: Alex Craft is a loner with some trauma in her background. And she’s killed someone! So she tries to stay away from people, but during her senior year she becomes closer to people, which complicates things.

What I liked: I appreciated the author’s writing style, which was dark and haunting. That combined with a story about high schoolers who talk about college applications and the like  might make the book a good fit for the fall season what with Halloween and the back-to-school. I also liked the characters. And the subject matter–this book talks about rape culture, but does it in a way that is not heavy handed; the book never gets taken over by its messaging, unlike in some other books I’ve reviewed recently. It was a really quick read.

What I didn’t like: Nothing is coming to mind. I did finish the book over four months ago now so details may be fuzzy. Usually that would work against the book as I tend to rate things higher immediately after finishing, but this one has stayed high. I really liked it!

Overall / recommended: Yes! Recommended! There is a lot to like about this book.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Title: Night Film
Author: Marisha Pessl
Genre: Fiction / thriller / mystery

Rating: 3.5 / 5


Why I picked it up: I’d been hearing about it forever! I was in the mood for something a little creepy, it came highly recommended, and my university library had a copy.

What it’s about: A woman dies (she’s the daughter of a secluded hermit guy who directs really really beyond scary movies, like life-changingly scary) and then the narrator gets sucked into why, how, etc.

What I liked: I read this in summer and even so it produced a chill (saying something; temperatures here have been up to 112 this summer, and we had a streak of 100+ days that lasted for two weeks). It was really effective. The atmosphere was great, and the reading experience was around 5 stars most of the time. Definitely held my interest, and I got through it quickly, especially for how long it is.

What I didn’t like: As much as I loved reading it, I finished it a couple months ago and it doesn’t have a ton of staying power. I guess what I mean is, ultimately it’s not all that deep. But then, it’s a thriller/mystery, which often are not meant to be, although this one did seem like it was going for that, trying to be a little ~more~, more “literary,” I guess which means more, y’know, big life themes. It was kind of on the cusp.

Overall / recommended: I think if I went in with lower expectations, or just expecting a genre thriller, I would have rated it higher than I did. I did enjoy this book. It made for great reading. If you want something kind of escapist and creepy, pick it up! Especially now that Halloween season is nigh. Of course enjoyably “creepy” to me might be unpleasantly “distressing” to others, so there is that caveat.

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

Title: Girl in Snow
Author: Danya Kukafka
Genre: Fiction / mystery

Rating: 2.5 / 5


Why I picked it up: I put it on my Goodreads to-read list mainly because I liked the cover and “thriller.” I entered a giveaway for it and won! So I picked it up when I finished the book I was reading.

What it’s about: A popular high school girl is killed one night. The book is told from three different perspectives: a kid who stalked her, a police officer who is investigating, and a neighbor/acquaintance who kinda hates/resents her.

What I liked: I liked the writing. I thought the writing was really good. Kukafka’s prose was definitely noteworthy and at times beautiful, but it was especially well suited to this book–moody and evocative and angsty all piney and yearning and stuff. I also liked the kind of slow, character study approach. I thought it worked really well, and I found the police officer’s storyline especially compelling and ambiguous.

What I didn’t like: Okay, I do like that the author tried to make it like “people are complicated” and all that, because they are, but I also felt uncomfortable with how far she took it with one of the characters. BIG SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT!!! One of the characters who becomes a suspect in her murder is Cameron, who, as mentioned previously, stalked her. He was obsessed and “in love” with her and watched her all the time and one time he broke into her house while she was sleeping and stood in her room and watched her all night. Only it’s portrayed in this way where it’s like kind of ~okay~ because he’s pure or innocent or something. The way the author writes about him, I think he’s supposed to have some kind of mental illness or maybe developmental disorder (it’s never explicitly stated). And also he loves her and everyone knows he loved her and supposedly she liked his attention so it’s all okay that he super stalked her, right? I don’t think this aspect would bother me as much if stalking weren’t a real problem and if there weren’t already a bunch of cultural tolerance of it (for instance, Twilight). The way it’s portrayed in the book just comes a little too close to “excusing” that kind of behavior to me. :\

Overall / recommended: I would hesitate to recommend it for the reasons listed in the previous paragraph. As much as I thought the writing was great and it was an interesting story, that kind of thing really does rub me the wrong way.