Tag Archives: school shooting

Review: We Can Be Heroes by Kyrie McCauley

We Can Be Heroes by Kyrie McCauley

We Can Be Heroes
Kyrie McCauley
Katherine Tegen Books
Published September 7, 2021

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About We Can Be Heroes

“Welcome to Bell, proud home of Bell Firearms for two hundred years, and where five months ago, the teen heir to the Bell fortune took his father’s guns to school and killed his ex-girlfriend, Cassandra Queen.” —WE CAN BE HEROES PODCAST

Beck and Vivian never could stand each other, but they always tried their best for their mutual friend, Cassie. After the town moves on from Cassie’s murder too fast, Beck and Vivian finally find common ground: vengeance. They memorialize Cassie by secretly painting murals of her around town, a message to the world that Cassie won’t be forgotten. But Beck and Vivian are keeping secrets, like the third passenger riding in Beck’s VW bus with them—Cassie’s ghost.

When their murals catch the attention of a podcaster covering Cassie’s case, they become the catalyst for a debate that Bell Firearms can no longer ignore. With law enforcement closing in on them, Beck and Vivian hurry to give Cassie the closure she needs—by delivering justice to those responsible for her death.

Kyrie McCauley, author of If These Wings Could Fly, delivers a powerful contemporary YA novel about a trio of girls fighting for each other in the aftermath of a school shooting and the lasting bonds of friendship. Perfect for fans of Laura Ruby and Mindy McGinnis.

My Review

This. Book. Just wow. There are a couple scenes toward the end in particular (which I won’t spoil) but which absolutely wrecked me. The relationships between the characters are so incredibly well done. The friendships between the girls. The relationship between Beck and her gentle, not to be pushed around, strong but silent type grandfather. He’s my favorite literary grandpa EVER.

Then. The layering! The way the story wove together truths about domestic violence and powerful snapshots from Greek myths and the story of two girls grappling with crushing grief in a town refusing to face what killed their best friend. The clips from the podcast focused on exposing violence against women. The Latin expression that was so precious to Cassie that comes up again and again through the story: collige virgo rosas.

I just.

I feel like there’s no way that I can review this book and do it justice at all. It might be the best book at weaving all these things together simultaneously and telling a story that bears the weight of the important topics it explores without being dominated by them.

I loved this book. This is going to be the book you hear about from me for like the next year, so if you know me in real life, probably go ahead and read it now. Ha! Really, though. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that felt as gripping and as weighty as this and had the moving writing style to back it up, too. Like maybe since I read THE BOOK THIEF? I’m not sure. I can see why McCauley is compared in the back cover copy to Laura Ruby, who wrote BONE GAP, which was also a densely packed, lyrical, moving book.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Major characters are three white girls. One girl is a lesbian.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kiss between boy and girl. A girl recalls briefly that she slept with her boyfriend before she was ready and implies that he pressured or perhaps even forced her to do so.

Spiritual Content
Cassie is dead, but every night she appears as a ghost in the van owned by one of her two best friends.

Violent Content – Trigger warning for domestic violence/abuse and for gun violence and suicide and bullying.
Some descriptions of domestic violence. Some descriptions of a school shooting in which Cassie was killed and one of her best friends injured before the gunman ended his life. Those things happened before the book begins, so they’re related in short flashes of memory by the characters.

At one point, a girl finds a hateful message spray painted on her door. (I’ve referred to this as bullying, but I’m not sure what the right label for it is.)

Drug Content
The girls drink alcohol together and get drunk together as teens more than once.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support running this blog. I received a free copy of WE CAN BE HEROES in exchange for my honest review.

Review: This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

This Is Where It Ends
Marieke Nijkamp

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

It begins with the closing of the principal’s speech at Opportunity High. Confusion rustles through the auditorium as students discover the locked doors. Then one door opens, and a boy enters. A boy with a gun.

Four alternating viewpoints, each a student with a connection to the shooter, relate this tense, heartbreaking tale about a community ripped apart by violence. The story spans fifty-four minutes.

This Is Where It Ends includes a diverse body of characters across lines of race, religion, and sexual preference. As a YA reader and reviewer, I’ve commented before that I wish there were more stories featuring Muslim characters in which they or their family members aren’t portrayed as terrorists. I think especially right now, we need those voices. We need those stories. Fareed was probably my favorite character. He was kind, smart, patient, and loyal, but he got things done, too. I loved that he wasn’t defeated by other people’s prejudices.

I really liked that each chapter began with a timestamp. The story unfolds so rapidly, and there’s a lot of chaos and panic, and that minute-by-minute unraveling of the timeline kept things feeling critical. I feel like that high-tension plot is the real strength of the story.

In reading the different points-of-view, I often felt like I wasn’t getting as deep as I wanted to, especially early on in the story. It’s a really tough balance to strike to give enough slow insight into the characters versus keeping the narrative moving to avoid letting the tension slack off, so I think it could just be that I’m used to those slower-paced, more cerebral narratives, or prefer them.

There’s a heroic moment in which one character basically gives their life for another character. I love that gesture and how brave it was, but I felt like because of how it unfolded in the plot, it didn’t have to happen and was kind of just this little pause for, “okay, then this person we like dies, and moving on again.” I wanted it to mean more. However, the truth is, that in situations like this, there often isn’t a big moment that means something for each casualty, you know? I think because of who this character is, I expected it to mean more.

There’s never a good time to read a tragic story, but it is always the right time to be reminded of courage.

It is early December as I write this review. It’s always difficult to review a story about a situation like this in the wake of a real life event like what happened in San Bernandino. I was reading Black Helicopters, a story about a terrorist bombing, when the bombing happened in Boston in 2013. I’ve had This Is Where It Ends in my review queue for some time, but there hasn’t seemed a good time to read it.

I can only say that we need to be reminded that people of good heart, of moral courage come from every background, despite what other voices and what our own fears would have us believe. We need to hold on to the truth that we are all created equal, all worthy of love, all valuable. And Marieke Nijkamp’s brave story, though cloaked in the senseless tragedy of a school shooting, reminds us of these critically important beliefs.

Language Content
Extreme profanity used with moderate frequency.

Sexual Content
We learn that a girl was raped, but no details about the incident. Two girls have a romantic relationship. They hold hands and kiss.

Spiritual Content
Sylvia prays occasionally through the story, and remembers sharing in spiritual traditions of her Mexican family. Fareed whispers prayers as well (he is a Muslim.) At the end of the story, survivors gather at a candlelight vigil and pray according to their faiths.

A teenage boy shoots students, teachers and staff at his high school. One person is killed by asphyxiation. An abusive man beats his children, leaving them bruised. Some of these scenes are extremely violent and some of the descriptions quite graphic. I’d say this one isn’t for the faint of heart or the very sensitive.

Drug Content
Autumn and Tyler’s dad is an abusive alcoholic.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.