Title: Violent Ends
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Anthology
Source: Book Depository
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In a one-of-a-kind collaboration, seventeen of the most recognizable YA writers—including Shaun David Hutchinson, Neal and Brendan Shusterman, and Beth Revis—come together to share the viewpoints of a group of students affected by a school shooting.
It took only twenty-two minutes for Kirby Matheson to exit his car, march onto the school grounds, enter the gymnasium, and open fire, killing six and injuring five others.
But this isn’t a story about the shooting itself. This isn’t about recounting that one unforgettable day.
This is about one boy—who had friends, enjoyed reading, playing saxophone in the band, and had never been in trouble before—became a monster capable of entering his school with a loaded gun and firing bullets at his classmates.
Each chapter is told from a different victim’s viewpoint, giving insight into who Kirby was and who he’d become. Some are sweet, some are dark; some are seemingly unrelated, about fights or first kisses or late-night parties. This is a book told from multiple perspectives—with one character and one event drawing them all together—by some of YA’s most recognizable names.
Because this is an anthology, I’ll give you all mini reviews on each story with their individual ratings and then a full review at the end!
Oh and because these are short stories, I may be giving some stuff away so I can actually talk about them. Sorry!
Miss Susie by Steve Brezenoff –> ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 4/5 stars.
TW/CW: bullying, animal death (shooting a crow, mentioned)
This story just filled me with this impending doom of knowing something bad was going to happen, but not knowing what. Reading about little Susie getting bullied on her birthday honest was breaking my heart. As was reading about her lashing out to Kirby. A glum start to this anthology.
Violent Beginnings by Beth Revis –> ⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 3/5 stars.
This story was the one that I knew was going to show up, the one that asked “did you know the killer was always a monster.” This short story follows Teddy who goes to a different high school during the events of the shooting. When the news posts the pictures of the deceased, he realized that he knows and used to be friends with the shooter. We then get some flashbacks of Rick (the bully from the first story) being an ass, a callback to this first story, and some discussion about if friendship would’ve changed anything.
While this story was enjoyable, it felt too derivative and familiar. I had a lot of “I’ve read this before” and that did hamper my enjoyment a bit.
Survival Instinct by Tom Leveen –> ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 4/5 stars.
TW/CW: severe child abuse (mostly physical)
Wow, this one was hard to read. Any story with child abuse is hard, but this one really had this sense of helplessness about it. Zach and Kirby are friends, and Kirby knows about Zach’s abuse and gives her the courage to fight back. This story really relies on dramatic irony at the end to capture this looming dread.
The Greenest Grass by Delilah S. Dawson –> ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨ – 4.5/5 stars.
TW/CW: eating disorder (unsure if bulimia or anorexia with purging)
This is another familiar story: popular girl used to be friends with shooter back in the day. Though this one puts a bit of a spin to the story. Lauren’s existence is shaped by her mother and peers to be this perfect cheerleader and this has resulted in Lauren developing an eating disorder.
At the beginning of the short story, Lauren tries to get rid of a friend’s chocolate bar by giving it to a random person, who happens to be Kirby. The exchange starts off nice enough until Lauren’s boyfriend pulls a douchebag jock act and makes her ridicule him in from the school. Later on, Lauren and Kirby meet up and her actually ends up warning her about the shooting by encouraging her to “fake sick and skip school.”
As you can tell from the rating, this story has been my favorite so far. I don’t know why I enjoyed this one so much more than the others, but something just stuck with me.
Feet First by Margie Gelbwasser –> ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 5/5 stars.
Wow, this one actually made me tear up a bit. This follows clarinet player, Jenny, who is the ex-girlfriend of Kirby. The two are in band together and Jenny feels that Kirby is her protector. He’s helped her transition to marching band and navigate some other hardships.
Kirby also saved Jenny’s life. He has her go get coffee at a shop on the other side of town so she won’t be hurt during his shooting. She is seen as a miracle, then as an accomplice, and finally as the girl who wants to understand, but can’t.
This story just hurt my soul so much, but wow was it powerful.
The Perfect Shot by Shaun David Hutchinson –> ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 4/5 stars.
TW/CW: bullying, suggested transphobia (never on page, but hinted at)
This story made a seeming unimportant side character into one of the saddest character deaths, wow. Billie is the new girl and is on a mission to take the perfect photograph of her subject. While studying Kirby for a photography project, she develops a crush on him and wants to get to know him more.
Billie has been mentioned a few times in previous stories, so getting this insight on her character just added to the heart break.
Though it’s never explicitly stated, it’s suggested that Billie may be trans (future Becky here, it’s actually confirmed in another story that she was. It just wasn’t confirmed in this story). She takes pills in the morning, envied the changing bodies of other girls during puberty, was harassed at her previous school to the point of having to leave, and even talked with a priest about “if God makes mistakes” (actually this scene was handled really well!).
This is another story where the reader knows more than the character, so there’s this impending sense of doom while you’re waiting for the bad thing to happen.
The Girl Who Said No by Trish Doller –> ⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 3/5 stars.
This one follows Morgan, a soccer player who was shot during the shooting and who’s friend was killed. This one follows her year(ish) after the shooting where she tries to understand how she can move on when her world is now shaped around this shooting.
Her long time crush Gabriel asks her to a dance (I think it was winter homecoming; it was some kind of winter formal), and she thinks back to the last time she said no…the time when she said no to Kirby.
Now, this story felt short and incomplete compared to the other stories. It didn’t really give any motive to Kirby hurting her as she said no pretty nicely. She didn’t ridicule him and she even considered changing her mind (and told her dad about feeling guilty). I feel like there’s more to this story coming up in later entries.
Pop by Christine Johnson –> ⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 3/5 stars.
Now, this story is about someone who feels guilty about messing with Kirby, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he bullied him. There was some metaphorical poking of the bear, a prank (not really, but I don’t know the right word) that pisses Kirby off, and some general jackassery. But nothing that’s down right awful (especially compared to some of the other stuff we’ve seen).
Also, Mark (the kid in question) is called out for being a jerk and not being the bigger person.
Now this one was kind of ambiguous. Mark ends the short story looking for his girlfriend in the chaos of the gym. Because of the confirmed dead in the second story, we know she’s not killed (tbh I had to double check), but if she was injured, there but unharmed, or home is not clear.
Presumed Destroyed by Neal Shusterman and Brendan Shusterman –> ⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 3/5 stars.
The fact this one is from the POV of the gun is super interesting. The idea of personifying this weapon was such a clever direction and added to this anthology.
I liked the nuance they were able to give to the thoughts and desire to the weapon (something I’d never though I’d say) and I have chills at the end. Wow.
My only complaint is that this one raised more questions than it answered, but I’m excited to see how this one adds to the overall narrative.
The Second by Blythe Woolston –> ⭐️⭐️ – 2/5 stars.
I wanted to like this one more, but honestly it felt short and out of place. This one follows a new girl who doesn’t really know anyone (or connect to the overall plot), hides in the bathroom during the shooting, and lives in a pro-Second Amendment household.
Oh and her dog likes to eat cats, I guess.
I just didn’t really connect with this one and after several previous stories that seemed to flesh out the shootings and characters involved, this one just felt like a “I was there too guys” story. I don’t know, not for me.
Astroturf by E. M. Kokie –> ⭐️⭐️✨ – 2.5/5 stars.
This one was interesting, we follow the former owner of Kirby’s house…and that’s kind of it. She interacts with him at the pizza shop a few times and suggests something made him change his drink of choice, but that’s about it.
I’m curious if he’s there on a “last supper” kind of thing or not.
There were some things to enjoy, but it dragged a bit.
Grooming Habits by Elisa Nader –> ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 4/5 stars.
TW/CW: child grooming, suggested pedophilia, verbal abuse
Wow wow wow wow wow, I didn’t think this one was going where it went. Damn.
At first I was thinking that when between two boys, she just picked wrong, but dang, I didn’t think it was going this way at all. I wonder how this relationship (or lack there of?) plays into the overall plot and the shooting.
Hypothetical Time Travel by Mindi Scott –> ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 5/5 stars.
TW/CW: grief, talk of suicide
Wow, this was another one that made me cry (I guess that’s the requirement to get a 5 star rating in this anthology, lol).
This one follows Kirby’s sister after the events of the shooting as she tries to cope with what happened.
This one addresses a lot of different things. Should you blame the family of a shooter? Can you get back to normal? Who’s really to blame? There’s a lot this short story tackled.
We learn that Carah is on the yearbook staff and thoroughly enjoys it. We know that Kirby is a bit of an ass to her and her friends, but also gave her Pepper (her dog). Pepper was supposed to be Kirby’s dog, but Pepper was always closer to Carah and Kirby made it official.
Carah also runs into her boyfriend, who she isn’t sure how he’s going to react to her. She read some of the comments on the news story when everything first happened and she’s not sure what her friends think.
This one also deals with Kirby’s parents having to make impossible decisions about their son’s funeral arrangements and actually showcases how hard it can be for a parent to lose their child and how hard it is to move on, especially when you have no one you can turn to.
It was a simple story, but I liked it.
All’s Well by Cynthia Leitich Smith –> ⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 3/5 stars.
This one was okay. It’s about a kid that is a little dark and a little weird who get’s flagged for writing dark horror-based story and is accused of being Kirby’s accomplice before the news realizes they are very wrong and have to retcon the narrative.
Ruben, our MC for this story, talks about how he and Kirby had some similar interests, but never actually talked or hung out and he wonders a bit what would have happened if they did.
Overall, this was an interesting story, but it was also kind of lack luster. It showcases a lot of panic after a shooting, trying to find “who’s next,” but it didn’t feel like it dived into the topic enough.
Burning Effigies by Kendare Blake –> ⭐️⭐️ – 2/5 stars.
So, this one follows a stoner, Alice, who didn’t really know Kirby and feels disconnected from the shooting.
Alice talks about how she had a crush on one of the victims, Tyler. She talks about Billie and how they may have recruited her to smoke with them. And later on her way to a party, she steals some of Kirby’s clothes and burns them.
This one kind of hit the mark for me as it just felt incomplete. I felt like this story wanted to tell more, but it just didn’t.
Holes by Hannah Moskowitz –> ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 4/5 stars.
This was probably the most chilling story in this anthology and follows a girl who used to be neighbors with Kirby, but moved when she was 9.
There’s this idea that they were friends when they were kids and that she should say something to humanize Kirby after the shooting. This idea that she knew a different side of him that others are not exploring.
This one ends with a story Laura tells one of the other newspaper reporters for her school about when Laura and Kirby were kids and catching fireflies. And, damn I got chills at the end of this one.
History Lessons by Courtney Summers –> ⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 3/5 stars.
TW/CW: talk of past bullying
Gah, this was probably the most frustrating story for me as I wanted to get so much more insight from the characters and it ended while only hinting at things.
This story follows Nate, one of the bullies who has shown up in previous stories. He’s asked (and told) several times that he should be feeling guilty because he bullied Kirby. Nate on the other hand doesn’t, and says that “Kirby always had a gun, but people never noticed.” I wanted to know what he meant. What did Kirby do that made you think this?
Nate talked about how he “beat Kirby bloody” when he was 13, but doesn’t seem to regret this. He mentions there was one point where Kirby tried to steal his friend, Jackson, and that Nate needed him more, so he made Kirby know that he can’t steal him. But it’s still kept pretty open and I really wanted them to explore this topic more.
This story had potential to probably be the best in the entire anthology, but never fully went there, which was pretty disappointing for me.
This was a really enjoyable anthology, but overall I just wanted the stories to be more. I know there’s this idea that we’ll never know the truth behind a shooting, as the shooter is dead. But I felt that the POV characters were did get didn’t reveal enough.
I love exploring motives and trying to figure out why a character did what they did. But this anthology never went there for me. They allude to things that may have been the tipping point, but nothing is fully developed or confirmed.
I did like how there were different interpretations of Kirby, some stories that show him as a shy, misunderstood guy; and other stories that show him as violent and a killer at heart. I’m unsure if I would want a story from Kirby’s perspective as we don’t always get to know the truth. But I also wonder if there was any rhyme or reason to his attacks. This is actually brought up several times, that he spared some people but not others. I would love to know more about his motives and what tipped him over the edge.
I feel like this anthology could be fleshed out and could be a super compelling story. Many of the short stories felt like a tease and I would have loved more. This is one of those anthologies that could be adapted to film really well, that could explore these stories and characters more. Though, in a post 13 Reasons Why world, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.