This Is Where It Ends. Marieke Nijkamp. 2016. 288 pages. Sourcebooks Fire. [Source: ARC provided courtesy of NetGalley.]
Reading this book will leave you shell-shocked. It is haunting. It is emotionally draining. It is real.
This Is Where It Ends is told over the course of 54 minutes. But in those 54 minutes, you experience an entire lifetime. The day starts as quietly as any other in sleepy Opportunity, Alabama, with the local high school welcoming students back to a new semester with a school-wide assembly meant to motivate and encourage the student body. Things quickly turn when students and faculty find themselves trapped inside with a lone gunman, intent on leaving his tragic mark on their community.
The story is told from first-person accounts of several students. There’s Autumn, the junior whose brother Tyler is the gunman. There is also Sylv, Autumn’s girlfriend. Tomas is Sylv’s twin brother, who finds himself and his friend Fareed as one of few students in a position to save everyone trapped in the auditorium. Claire, whose brother Matt is trapped inside, is Tyler’s ex-girlfriend. Interspersed within are accounts of the shooting found on various social media platforms from people connected to those inside.
This Is Where It Ends is a ground-level portrayal of school shootings. Too often, we see incidents play out on the nightly news, or as sound bytes, but don’t get the perspective in the moment that gives rationale for people’s actions. With this book, Nijkamp answers the common questions of “how did this happen” or “why did they do this?” But more than that, she makes you feel the gamut of emotions people experience as victims the shooting: fear, confusion, anger, hopelessness, resentment, and hope. The reader is forced to feel the anguish of wondering when the end will come — maybe when Autumn steps up to her brother, or when Tyler hunts Sylv down in the school’s hallways? As a reader, I found myself constantly wondering when the other shoe would drop and how many lives would be lost in the process.
What was surprising, but refreshing, was Nijkamp’s critique of the voyeuristic nature of society in the midst of tragic events. The tweets show the predatory nature of some news outlets intent on being the first to break a story with an insider’s perspective. The blog posts highlight the culture of anonymous commenting that can often lack compassion. With so much news proliferating through social media and its use as a significant means of communication, its use couldn’t have been ignored. Nijkamp included it in a meaningful way.
There is no happy ending here. But there can’t be one in a school shooting. Instead, the book offers insight on how people make sense of their experiences and whether use them to propel them forward or let them drown them. I absolutely recommend This Is The End. Although this is a young adult book, I wouldn’t limit the audience to just youth. One can hardly turn on a news report today without hearing about active shooter situations, and I think Nijkamp’s synthesis of perspectives, motivations, and experiences are relatable beyond the high school age group.