That’s Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger – REVIEW
It’s been three years since the Virgil County High School Massacre. Three years since my best friend, Sarah, was killed in a bathroom stall during the mass shooting. Everyone knows Sarah’s story – that she died proclaiming her faith.
But it’s not true.
I know because I was with her when she died. I didn’t say anything then, and people got hurt because of it. Now Sarah’s parents are publishing a book about her, so this might be my last chance to set the record straight…but I’m not the only survivor with a story to tell about what did – and didn’t – happen that day.
Except Sarah’s martyrdom is important to a lot of people, people who don’t take kindly to what I’m trying to do. And the more I learn, the less certain I am about what’s right. I don’t know what will be worse: the guilt of staying silent or the consequences of speaking up…
“Acting like the dead were always perfect and innocent just distances them from us even more.”
I was lucky enough to be sent a proof of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I haven’t read Kody Keplinger before so I was eager to read this. The storyline begins three years after a deadly shooting in a typical US high school and focuses on the lasting trauma for six witnesses. The shooting itself and the reasons for it aren’t important to this story (the shooter isn’t even named), rather the author explores how survivors cope with the narratives that are spun by the press, family, communities, and friends. As the main character Lee discovers, a story can be more powerful than the truth.
“I hated when other people tried to tell me how well they knew Sarah… No one knew her like I did. They knew an idea they’d built up in their heads.”
The six survivors are a diverse selection and I appreciated the author’s attempt to represent disability, race, and sexual orientation, especially with the inclusion of an ace character. Books like these offer a much more accurate representation of high school life. I’ve seen a couple of reviews complaining that the characters were unlikeable but I found them all so interesting and complex that I didn’t feel that way. Sometimes they acted thoughtlessly or pushed each other too far but the reasons for that were always satisfactory and usually a way of working through their emotional issues.
“You know what people like way more than the truth? A good story.”
In the religious rural area where the high school is situated, the narrative surrounding Sarah’s death is given a religious spin by portraying Sarah as a Christian martyr. This story gives her parents a measure of peace and it’s understandable why they cling to it, ignoring Lee’s attempts to tell the truth. I was easily able to empathise with both sides at times but it was hard to sympathise with some of the religious characters who tried to silence anyone who told a story that didn’t fit with theirs. This was a thought-provoking book that, whilst having a few problems, successfully explored a number of topical issues.