Genre: Contemporary, YA
Publication date: March 10th 2015
by Putnam Juvenile
Alys’s whole world was comprised of the history project that was due, her upcoming violin audition, being held tightly in the arms of her boyfriend, Ben, and laughing with her best friend, Delilah. At least it was—until she found herself on the wrong end of a shotgun in the school library. Her suburban high school had become one of those places you hear about on the news—a place where some disaffected youth decided to end it all and take as many of his teachers and classmates with him as he could. Except, in this story, that youth was Alys’s own brother, Luke. He killed fifteen others and himself, but spared her—though she’ll never know why.
Alys’s downward spiral begins instantly, and there seems to be no bottom. A heartbreaking and beautifully told story.
-A copy was provided by Penguin Canada for review-
This was very dark, very gritty, and very powerful. I have read a few books about school shootings, and while my favorite will always be Nineteen Minutes, this is one I’m not likely to forget any time soon.
Silent Alarm focuses more on after the fact than the shooting itself. We do see the event unfold, but the story is more about Alys having to live with what her brother did. As expected, there’s a great amount of grief, of guilt, of “what ifs” on her part. Her character is developed in a way that even though she closes herself off emotionally – self preservation and all – she still lets us in. With many emotional books like this, I keep myself at arm’s length due to the overwhelming nature of the character’s state of mind, but with Alys, I was still able to fully immerse myself into her shoes. I didn’t fear the grief she was trying to push away, I wanted to be there for her.
This highly character based novel touches on many aspects surrounding such a tragedy. The reaction of the community – the need for everyone to lay blame on the family – is very real and very hurtful. People do react like that in real life, and it’s unfortunate, yet you can’t help but understand both sides. Blame is a natural human response to grief, a destructive response, but we rarely put ourselves in the others’ shoes. In this novel, we see exactly how this affects Alys’s family. A family that is stopped in its tracks, shocked by what their son did, but a family that is grieving like all the others nonetheless. It’s sad to see her friends and even boyfriend turn against her for what she couldn’t control, but it’s also good to see who your real friends are in these situations. I was happy that she had at least one shoulder to lean on -her brother’s best friend – to help slow down, even if it’s just a little bit, this downward spiral. Don’t take this as a sign of romance, however. This book has only the tiniest touch of romance – if I even dare call it that. It’s more like a longing of what she once had.
Even though the writing overall was good and emotionally charged, I was not a fan of the style she uses to convey Alys’ real opinion of what her brother did. We’d get random bits of internal dialogue inside parenthesis, usually mid sentence, that I found pretty distracting. Fortunately it’s not used excessively, so it doesn’t become a huge deal. Also, don’t expect some clear-cut, intensely plotted book full of twists and shocking turns. This novel is a character-driven story, through and through.
Highly recommended to fans of dark contemporaries, Silent Alarm is an honest and raw look at grief, at someone’s life changing drastically one tragic afternoon.