Book Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Whenever I see news about yet another school shooting, there are three main questions that always run through my head.

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Whenever I see news about yet another school shooting, there are three main questions that always run through my head:

1) Why is this STILL HAPPENING so often in America? And nowhere else in the world?

2) What could possibly possess someone to do something so evil?

and

3) What could the parents of the perpetrator be thinking?

We Need to Talk About Kevin explores that last question.

About the Book

Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Author: Lionel Shriver

Published: 2003

Series: (standalone)

Genre: contemporary, literary fiction, psychological thriller, horror

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Premise

Synopsis (from Goodreads) (truncated):

Eva never really wanted to be a mother – and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.

My Thoughts

The main character of We Need to Talk About Kevin is Eva Khatchadourian, the mother of the eponymous fictional school shooter, Kevin, and the story is told in letters she writes to her ex-husband a year after the shooting. She reflects on their life together, Kevin’s childhood, and what went wrong.

Was Kevin always a sicko, or was Eva a bad mother? Does she still owe him her motherly love, even now? Did she ever actually love Kevin? And most importantly, is she culpable in his crimes?

“These days it is solely through notoriety that I understand who I am and what part I play in the dramas of others. I’m the mother of ‘one of those Columbine kids‘”

This is one of those books that’s ranked as “most disturbing books ever” and it certainly is. If any book were to convince me to change my mind and believe in the stupidity that is antinatalism, it would be this book. In any case, I never wanted to have children, and now I really don’t want to have children.

The story was extremely well-developed; we spend so much time exploring every single aspect of Eva’s life— a little too much, in my opinion, which caused the beginning to drag— but the payoff was that every character was fully fleshed-out. It felt really realistic. That’s why it was creepy. The writing was also really good, if a bit wordy and thesaurus-y at times.

What was the most depressing was that this book was published all the way back in 2003. It’s now halfway through 2022 and basically nothing has changed. Twenty years later and we’re still talking about the same gun control and violent video games and Godlessness and school bullying and red flags that no one ever seems to catch in time and nothing has changed.

“Mark my words, every well-armed temper tantrum that goes down only increases the likelihood of more. This whole country’s lost, everybody copies everybody else, and everybody wants to be famous. In the long term, the only hope is that these shootings get so ordinary that they’re not news anymore. Ten kids get shot in some Des Moines primary school and it’s reported on page six. Eventually any fad gets to be uncool, and thank God at some point hip thirteen-year-olds just won’t want to be seen with a Mark-10 in second period.”

The Verdict

Overall, this was a really good book, though it was very unsettling to read.

There’s also a movie:

Have you read or watched We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver? If so, what did you think of it? Feel free to leave a comment!

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1 comments on “Book Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver”

  1. As a parent, it sounds like a very disturbing book! I’m not into that, but understand that this and other very troubling topics should be explored in fiction.

    Let me try and help with the first of your three questions. It doesn’t only happen here and it doesn’t happen as often as perceptions lead us to believe. That may not help much, but I think it is important to seek clarity where possible.

    The first problem is with definitions. What is a school shooting? If gang members shoot each other in the parking lot after a high school football game, some sources will count that as a school shooting because it was on school grounds – doesn’t even matter if the people involved weren’t students at that school. Clearly, that’s not the kind of school shooting most people are thinking of when they hear the words.

    What is a mass shooting? The FBI (and most equivalent foreign organizations) set the standard at four dead, not including the perpetrator. A lot of less credible sources are counting four or more injured or dead and are counting the perpetrator. None of that matters if it’s your kid that dies or if it happens in your community, but when trying to put things into perspective we need to start with a solid basis of comparison.

    In general, when people say ‘school shooting’, they are talking about a mass school shooting. Those are pretty rare: https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2022/05/what-to-do-about-school-shootings.php

    You can find plenty of sources showing you that many other countries (including our neighbors Canada and Mexico) have had school shootings – and remember that our population is much larger than any other comparable (modern, free, etc) country. I couldn’t find a source that properly filtered mass school shootings internationally, but I think the fact that we are #56 in mass shootings per capita makes the point that the perceptions are distorted:
    https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2019/05/america-56-in-mass-shootings.php

    Counter-point to my own point, when we decided to homeschool our kids six years ago, I was VERY relieved I wouldn’t have to worry about school shootings anymore. It doesn’t matter what the stats are when it happens to you and I pray none of us every have to know that pain.

    Liked by 1 person

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