We Need to Talk About Kevin (Review)

March 28, 2011

Book cover for "We Need to Talk About Kevin" by Lionel Shriver.Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Author: Lionel Shriver

Narrator: Barbara Rosenblatt

Publication Year: 2006

Pages: 400 (audio length: 18 hours 16 minutes)

Genre: Fiction

Source: Audiobook purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

Two years ago, Eva Khatchadourian’s son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker, and a popular algebra teacher. Because he was only 15 at the time of the killings, he received a lenient sentence and is now in a prison for young offenders in upstate New York. Telling the story of Kevin’s upbringing, Eva addresses herself to her estranged husband through a series of letters. Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about both motherhood in general and Kevin in particular. How much is her fault?

School shootings – and other forms of school violence – are hot topics these days, particularly in Canada and, to a greater extent, the United States. Everyone wants to know why and how these things happen, and what makes these kids do such horrible things. Quite often, though, these ponderings are merely answered by sensationalist media, and most of us are never exposed  to them in any calm, logical, or exploratory ways.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a look at the story of a school shooter from the point of view of his mother, after the fact. It is clear from very early on in the book what has happened; the letters that Eva writes to Franklin are largely based on her feelings about Kevin throughout his childhood. She feels strongly that there was something wrong with Kevin right from the outset, and this colours her perception of him as a child, something that dominates the narrative and has obviously affected her relationship with Franklin.

I really loved the frankness and honesty with which Eva approached the topic. She was upfront right from the beginning that she hadn’t particularly liked their son, and that she thought he was perhaps “evil” or at least very strange. This came out particularly well in the audiobook version; Rosenblatt, the narrator, really fleshed out Eva’s character and made her feelings and recollections come to life. I felt, just as she did, that there was something very wrong with Kevin. She was just that convincing.

I’ve heard that some schools are starting to use this book in high school courses, and I think that’s great. I’d definitely use it myself in the future. The content is interesting, keeping you on the edge of your seat at times, and yet it’s also rather thought-provoking. It really delves into the issues behind school violence, moving beyond the surface observations that are usually made.

If you haven’t already, definitely find yourself a copy of We Need to Talk About Kevin and get around to reading it. It will knock your socks off.

Rating:

3 Comments

  • Anna April 5, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    This book blew me away! I must admit that it took me about 100 pages to really get into it, and I considered tossing it aside. I’m so glad I didn’t because I would have missed out on a powerful novel. It really gets you thinking about how much of our personalities we’re born with and how much parenting has an impact, etc.

    • Carina May 24, 2011 at 10:43 am

      This really was a great read for me, too, though I was into it right from the beginning – probably because of the school shooting angle, and my job as a teacher. I’m glad you enjoyed it and that it made you think! It was a really great book that way.

  • Helen Smith April 12, 2011 at 4:07 am

    I agree – this is one of the best books I have read in years.

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