Review Blog

Jan 25 2019

That's not what happened by Kody Keplinger

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Hodder Children's Books, 2018. ISBN: 9781444933628.
Recommended for older students but with a warning about post traumatic sensitivities. Themes: gun violence, trauma and anxiety, post-traumatic stress, faith, loss, personal accounts. It is three years since a shooter at the small, strongly Christian, Virgil County High School killed nine; Leanne (Lee) Bauer is one of the six witnesses who survived the shooting. Lee's best friend Sarah was shot while they were hiding in a toilet cubicle and died holding her hand. Lee, like the others was traumatised by the event and its aftermath of media frenzy and their stories have become 'tangled into a knot of fact and fiction' p2. She is troubled by the false story attached to Sarah about a cross necklace and her refusal to deny her faith when questioned about it by the shooter. When Sarah's parents announce they are going to publish a book about their daughter's brave sacrifice, Lee realises she must tell the true story even if it is not one people want to hear. As a tribute to the nine victims she asks the other five survivors to write their true recollections of each victim and how they died that day. She makes a considered choice to keep the shooter's name out of it. 'This was the one thing that wasn't about him or why he did it. This was about everyone else and the damage he had done.' p 19. Four of the survivors meet and communicate regularly, the only people who truly understand the traumatising effect of the shooting, but one, Kellie Gaynor left the district. Lee finds it difficult to trace her and discovers that while she was recovering from the trauma Kellie was bullied and called a liar after claiming the necklace as her own. Even though it means revisiting the event Lee is determined to tell the truth and in doing so put the record straight before the survivors leave the school taking their stories with them. In asking for their stories Lee discovers more about each of the survivors and how they have coped, ranging from reinforcing Christian belief to advocating for gun control and she gains strength from them.
We all have a right to tell our own story, except when we are not here to tell it. The stories told by the survivors about the victims allow different points of view and appear on pages edged in black. Their own stories are about struggling to survive as damaged victims after an unthinkable event that seems to be happening too often in America.
Sue Speck

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