A Thousand Cuts was one of the most powerful books I read in 2010. Still, I went back and forth on whether to recommend it here, wondering whether it might be too disturbing for young adults. Considering the number of books published over the last several years that address school shootings, many written for the young adult market, the topic alone was not enough to make me hesitate. Especially as this is without a doubt one of the best. It is at least as effective as Project X by Jim Shepherd (Knopf, 2004), a 2005 Alex-Award winner, and Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (Atria, 2007), a title that often comes up as a recommendation among teen readers I know.
But this is not a book about a teenaged loner, it is about an adult, a teacher, and what drove him to violence against his school community.
I also needed to consider the criteria for this blog. One is that we assume mature content, that we not be put off by it. After all, we are reviewing adult books.
Like Nineteen Minutes, A Thousand Cuts presents multiple viewpoints. In this case, Lelic creates terrific tension and suspense around not only the question of why a teacher would resort to violence, but also around the fate of the woman investigating the incident. Harassment is shown to be as serious a problem in the adult world as in the world of teens. Which makes the school administration’s unwillingness to do anything about it all the more frustrating and tragic. The fact that teens are among the voices represented, both abusers and the abused, made up my mind. That and the excellence of the book as a whole.
Adult/High School–In a British high school, a teacher opens fire on students and adults during an assembly. Detective Inspector Lucia May is assigned to investigate the case. More truthfully, she is expected to make a cursory examination of the facts, confirm that history teacher Samuel Szajkowski was the shooter, and quickly close the case. What she finds is a toxic school environment where bullying had caused more than one tragedy. In this case, Szajkowski was tormented by students from his first day on the job, while the administration and fellow teachers turned a blind eye, and at times contributed. As the only woman in her department, Lucia is no stranger to harassment, and she insists on a prolonged investigation, endangering her job. The story, which reads like a thriller, is told from multiple points of view, including Lucia, teachers, administrators, and students, both the tormented and the tormenters. Readers of Jennifer Brown’s The Hate List (Little Brown, 2009), Jim Shepard’s Project X (Knopf, 2004), and Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes (Atria, 2007) will find an intense, even brutal experience in these pages.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City