It wasn't until I went to Amazon to read some reviews of This Is How It Ends that I realized that the entire book takes place over 54 minutes. That's it. Just 54 minutes of heart-racing adrenaline, tears, anger, sadness, fear, disgust, terror, and laughter.
At 10 am on a sunny morning in January, the principal of Opportunity High School in Opportunity, Alabama, finishes her beginning of the semester speech. It's the same speech each year, and so a senior named Tomas and his friend know exactly how much time they have to break in to the principal's office before they get caught. But in the middle of their student file spying, they hear gunshots and screaming coming from the auditorium. On the other side of campus, five track and field stars and their coach have been given special dispensation to skip the assembly; a race is coming up and they have to practice. In the middle of their run, they hear gunshots as well. And in the auditorium, the rest of the school is in their seats, frozen in horror as the Thing That Only Happens At Other Schools begins happening to them.
The story is told from four different first person perspectives. As Tyler Browne is coldly locking the auditorium doors with chains, senior Tomas is telling the reader he has broken in to the principal's office. As Tyler is stepping out on to the stage and preparing to hold the school hostage, Claire, the track and field star who dated Tyler the previous year before realizing that sixteen year old love isn't always meant to be forever, is detailing her run. And as Tyler opens fire, his sister Autumn and her girlfriend Sylvia, Tomas' twin, are describing the heart-stopping terror unfolding in the auditorium.
As Nijkamp rotates through the four characters, she fleshes out the story with some flashback scenes, and although the book is relatively short, she does an excellent job of making every character human, even the most minor players. It would have been very easy to pigeon-hole these characters, but they truly felt real and not at all stereotyped. And most importantly, I think, none of the "heroes" are flawless, and through Nijkamp's excellent character development, I even felt some empathy for Tyler. Peppered with just enough bits of text messages and Twitter posts, the B stories in this taut novel will affect you just as much as Tomas, Claire, Autumn, Sylvia, and even Tyler do.
Gun control is a hot button issue in this country today. I'm the daughter of a public school teacher. I'm the friend of several more. I'm the parent of an almost teenager, and I have friends with lots of teenaged kids. I think about guns and guns being on campus all the time. I look at my daughter's school and I realize how easy it would be to just walk in and open fire. Same thing with any school, really, no matter how many fences and gates and security guards and metal detectors there are. If someone wants in with a gun, they're going to get in with a gun.
While this is an "easy read" in that the reader will whip through the pages in the course of a couple of hours, this is by no means an easy book to read. I spent most of the story with a pounding heart, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I gasped aloud a couple of times. This is the kind of book that would have terrified me as a teenager, and while I would never censor what my kid reads, you'd better believe that when she's of the right age to read this, we'll be reading this together, and having lots of conversations about it.
Since 2013, there have been 185 school shootings. That's an average of about one a week.