Fifty- four minutes. That is all the time that is allowed to elapse in Marieke Nijkamp's
This Is Where It Ends. Those are fifty-four very intense minutes told through the perspective of four different students: Claire, Tomas, Autumn and Sylv. The cover of the book gives the reader plenty of warning that this is about a school shooting, but it was so palpable, so acute. This isn't one of those books that starts out with lots of backstory and eventually leads up to the event as the climax. This book is all climax. The shooting is nearly the whole book and the reader experiences it in real time with the characters.
Autumn and Sylv are sitting in the regularly scheduled first-day-of-the-semester assembly. Tomas is picking through files in the principal's office where he has been sent for yet another prank. Claire is sucking nearly freezing air into her lungs as she pushes herself around the track in preparation for the first track meet of the season. None of them have any idea what is coming, but when it does they will be changed forever.
I can't remember the last time I read a book in a single day. It helps that this one had such a rapid pace, but I also couldn't stand to put it down. Not that I didn't want to. I actually considered putting it in the freezer for a little while (name that reference!), but I felt like I had to keep reading. I felt like my reading was the only thing keeping the characters alive. If I stop, they'll all die. Irrational, sure, but since when have I ever been rational about fictional characters? We've all been there and this book is sure to do the same to you.
This book is more than the heartbreaking accounts we read of actual school shootings. It has all of those awful, gruesome, dreadful details, but is also has so much good as well. The students who help each other, the stories of the teacher everyone admires, and the pain of knowing the shooter as more than just "the shooter". This is a real person with real background to these characters and they just can't understand how this could have happened even as it is happening. Nijkamp does a brilliant job with this difficult subject matter and with the tempo of the story. The only predictability about it is when the reader knows something bad is going to happen but not what, and that only adds to the apprehension. At other times, she surprises her reader with a sudden turn that can knock the breath out of her readers. It is wonderfully done.
I know I will need to reread this book. Reading it so quickly was necessary, but I'll want to read it again. Please be warned that this book is brutal, but breathtaking. I think it would make an excellent book for discussion. I'd love to hear what you think.