Parkland: Birth of a Movement by Dave Cullen

An in-depth look at the group of teenagers who sparked a movement after the February 14th, 2018 shooting at their high school. 

DESCRIPTION:

The New York Times bestselling author of Columbine offers a deeply moving account of the extraordinary teenage survivors of the Parkland shooting who pushed back against the NRA and Congressional leaders and launched the singular grassroots March for Our Lives movement.

Emma Gonzalez called BS. David Hogg called out Adult America. The uprising had begun. Cameron Kasky immediately recruited a colorful band of theatre kids and rising activists and brought them together in his living room to map out a movement. Four days after escaping Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, two dozen extraordinary kids announced the audacious March for Our Lives. A month later, it was the fourth largest protest in American history.

Dave Cullen, who has been reporting on the epidemic of school shootings for two decades, takes us along on the students’ nine-month odyssey to the midterms and beyond. With unrivaled access to their friends and families, meetings and homes, he pulls back the curtain to reveal intimate portraits of the quirky, playful organizers that have taken the nation by storm. 

Cullen brings us onto the bus for the Road to Change tour showing us how these kids seized an opportunity. They hit the highway to organize the young activist groups mushrooming across America in their image. Rattled but undeterred, they pressed on in gun country even as adversaries armed with assault weapons tailed them across Texas and Utah trying to scare them off. 

The Parkland students are genuinely candid about their experiences. We see them cope with shattered friendships and PTSD, along with the normal day-to-day struggles of school, including AP exams and college acceptances. Yet, with the idealism of youth they are mostly bubbling with fresh ideas. As victims refusing victimhood, they continue to devise clever new tactics to stir their generation to action while building a powerhouse network to match the NRA’s. 

This spell-binding book is a testament to change and a perceptive examination of a pivotal moment in American culture. After two decades of adult hand-wringing, the MFOL kids are mapping a way out. They see a long road ahead, a generational struggle to save every kid of every color from the ravages of gun violence in America. Parkland is a story of staggering empowerment and hope, told through the wildly creative and wickedly funny voices of a group of remarkable kids.
     – Goodreads

Genre(s): Nonfiction, Crime, History, Politics

Publisher: Harper

Expected Publication Date: February.12.2019

*Thank you to the author and publisher for providing an ARC of this book via a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed are my own and based solely on the book provided*

REVIEW:
So it’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts in regards to this book. From the first few pages, this book had me sobbing. And I couldn’t figure out why. Why  was this book affecting me so much? Then one day it clicked. After Sandy Hook I was disillusioned. Because if dead babies don’t thaw your cold, greedy, gun-loving heart, then nothing will. And yet here are these teens, refusing to be further victimized and changing the narrative. These kids are doing what the generations before them should have done a long time ago. They are standing up, demanding action be taken, and filling people like me with hope.

Dave Cullen spent a lot of time observing, and speaking to these young activists. His personal experiences covering these massacres over the years and following the MFOL movement from city to city, brings unparalleled insight into this incredible work of journalism.

Now, this book, isn’t like Columbine. Rather, its focus is on the survivors. Their resilience. The way they refused to let the Valentine’s Day massacre at their high school be just another one-second blip in the media. How this group of grieving and traumatized kids decided to take action. 

As a millenial adult I remember Columbine. I also remember that after that massacre, active shooter drills/lockdown drills were implemented. For my Gen Z brother, he has never known life without them. Those drills have been a part of his entire school life. Right along with earthquake and fire drills. I feel like my generation just kind of accepted it. There’s nothing we can do about it, let’s move on. But the next generation sees it differently. 

Getting an insider look at the kids behind the March for Our Lives movement, you realize how incredibly fed up they are. How frustrated they are. How tough, and incredibly intelligent they are. They realize they don’t have all the answers. THEY DON’T WANT TO TAKE YOUR GUNS AWAY. But they demand some kind of action be taken to prevent another mass shooting from happening again. 

I believe these kids can get it done. Because if growing up on Harry Potter movies has taught me anything, it is that a group of teenagers can handle themselves well enough to take down their foe. Voldemort, who?
  
RATING: 5/5 stars

Recommend? Yes!! Read Columbine and Parkland back-to-back and you’ll quickly realize why this is an important, and timely book!

Audiobooks: True Crime Edition

I’ve been on a bit of a true crime kick after reading Columbine by Dave Cullen. The following audiobooks deal with a different crime. They’re all informative in their own way. 

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

Sue Klebold is the mother of one of the Columbine shooters. After reading Dave Cullen’s book, I was interested in what she had to say.  

I listened to the audiobook which is narrated by Sue Klebold herself. It’s always an interesting experience when a writer narrates their own work. The nuances of their words and expressions obviously come through a lot better. It’s like having a conversation with someone. 

Now with all that being said, Sue Klebold’s book is extremely heartbreaking. You feel her pain, confusion, and betrayal. It oozes out of her words. She was blindsided. Completely blindsided. And it’s something that she continues to grapple with. Trying to reconcile the image she had of her bright, loving son with the massacre he committed. 

Depression and suicide are heavily covered in the book. As something that I struggle with, I found this to be insightful and relatable. You know, one of the first questions they asked me when I was in the hospital was “are you a danger to others?”. I answered truthfully: no, I was only a danger to myself. Her son was an undiagnosed suicidal depressant. I’m not saying it’s an excuse for what he did. It absolutely is not. But I do understand his pain. Because I’ve been there. And sometimes I’m still there. 

Anyway. Back to the book. Sue Klebold loved her son. She did her best (as any good mother tries to do). She was blindsided. And now she’s trying to understand. It’s a heartbreaking, enlightening read. 

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer 

Krakauer states that he first thought of writing this book as a way to learn more about Mormons. Which is fair. The thing is, this book is less about Mormons and more about its extremists.

There’s a difference between Latter Day Saints and Fundamentalists. Something that is touched upon when going into the history of the Mormon faith. And this book focuses more on the Fundamentalists. 

It’s a fairly interesting book. It has true crime aspects as it discusses murders committed by members of a Fundamentalist sect. The perpetrators claim it was divinely ordained. At its core, this book is about American religious extremism. 

My Story by Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart

Elizabeth Smart recounts her traumatic kidnapping and rape by a Mormon Fundamentalist.

Sigh. Look, her story is harrowing. But I have to be completely honest. This is one of the worst audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. And by this point I’ve listened to a lot. Yes, I feel really uncomfortable stating this.

Elizabeth Smart narrates the book herself. Within 10 minutes I knew this was going to be a difficult listen. But I stuck it out because I hoped it would get better. It didn’t. I’ve seen Elizabeth give interviews on TV over the years. She’s always calm and articulate. Not in this book. It actually didn’t sound like her. It was childish. I wonder how much of this book she actually wrote herself.

The narration aside, the writing was also terrible. “I was just a little girl“, “I was just a little girl“, “I was just a little girl“. The phrase was pounded into my head. Why the repetition? I already felt for her. And why that specific phrase? Because little girl is what I call my 3 year old goddaughter. Not a 14 year old teen. Semantics, ya’ll.

This is Elizabeth’s story. It’s disturbing and like I said, I feel for her. I really do. But this book was not great. There are a lot of other things that bothered me which I won’t go into. Because I already feel icky about kind of tearing this book apart. Do I recommend it? Nope. Watch her interviews instead.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara


An in-depth look at McNamara’s investigation into the East Area Rapist.

While listening to the audiobook, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Michelle McNamara felt familiar. Then it clicked. She was a modern day Nancy Drew! She saw an investigation that had run cold years before and she set out to solve it. An amateur detective if there ever was one. 

There was a lot of detail into how she went about searching for clues and following up on leads. How her every thought turned to the case. What avenues of thought needed to be pursued. She was obsessed with the mystery. 

It’s unfortunate that Michelle didn’t live to see the capture of the alleged Golden State Killer. How DNA turned out to be the game-changer (just as she had perceived). An interesting read, for sure.

Molly’s Game by Molly Bloom

Molly was 26 years old when she became a poker princess. Not because she was a remarkable player, but because she was a good game organizer. 

This book has been on my radar for a long time. I think I read an excerpt of it in a magazine? Anyway, that small excerpt made me see Tobey Maguire differently. This book solidified that.

Molly kind of fell into the poker world. She was new to LA and her boss basically ordered her to be a part of it. The rest is history. She knew she was walking a legal tightrope. The book actually ends with her legal troubles yet unresolved. 

Hm. It was certainly an entertaining read. So many name drops. I haven’t watched the film adaptation but I imagine you get the juicier parts of the book. Probably easier to go that route. 

A Book About a Problem Facing Society Today

I tried to narrow this down to one problem. But I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t. Our society has one too many issues. And these books do a good job of sparking a discussion.

RACE RELATIONS
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said before? This is an incredibly powerful book. My top read this year. No doubt about it. The hype is legit with this one.

Starr is an African-American teen from “the ghetto” attending a predominantly white private school. One night, her best friend is murdered by a cop right before her eyes. What ensues, is heartbreakingly real and poignant.

This book is real. Cannot stress that enough. I cried, I laughed, I was angered, I reminisced and I cried again. Look, I grew up in the hood. And I felt this novel perfectly encapsulated that part of my life.

All I know, is that if I were to fall victim to a crime today, my name and reputation would probably be dragged through the mud because I lived in the projects and may therefore have “possible gang affiliations”. Despite the fact that I live in the suburbs, graduated from a decent university and have a steady job. But in today’s America, those details get lost as soon as someone’s skin color is seen.  

My review of The Autobiography of Malcolm X


SEXUAL ASSAULT

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer


A look at the prevalent number of alleged campus rapes/sexual assaults in Missoula, Montana by college athletes. The book presents interviews with the victims and the accused and their parents, friends, etc. It is an in-depth look at certain cases, some that made headlines. 

Wow wow wow. A myriad of emotions. I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by Mozhan Marno and every morning I was upset. I’ve always been on the “believe the victim” side (I’ve known people who were roofied, sexually assaulted and raped). So to listen to these young women in the book go through what they did in detail. It was a lot. My blood boiled. And it scared the shit out of me. At the end of the day though, it didn’t really surprise me. That’s the heartbreaking part. That I knew justice wouldn’t be served in these cases. In one instance, it actually is. It shocked me and I cheered and cried. Why? This shouldn’t be something out of the norm. But, it is. 

The way the prosecutors and detectives went out of their way to help the accused football players makes me see red. Seriously Kirsten Pabst?! She was in charge of one of the cases but refused to file charges. She then resigned, her boss decided to file charges, so she joined the guy’s defense team! I mean, what kind of bullshit is that?! 

And the trials themselves! Good Lord! You confess to rape and still deserve a lenient sentence because you’re a good person? The fuck?! NO! Raping “your little sister” proves otherwise! “I have suffered enough and have a bright future”. Excuse me?! You’re the one that raped someone and have caused years of emotional damage. Do not play victim when YOU have committed a crime. 

Reason #37293629 why I don’t trust the justice system. I am a woman and if I were the victim of sexual assault I wouldn’t get Oliva Benson or Eliot Stabler. I’d get some asshole that would blame me for falling asleep in a friend’s house in the first place. How dare I expect people to act like decent human beings? Haha, silly me. 



SCHOOL VIOLENCE

Columbine by Dave Cullen

An in-depth look at the school shooting that rocked the United States. This book is written by one of the many journalists that initially covered the massacre. My one pet peeve: the writing format. Bounced back between something that happened pre-massacre to one of the survivors. It seemed a bit unstructured to me.

I remember life before Columbine. After? Big changes. My sister was in high school and my mom worried about her constantly. I went from having regular earthquake/fire drills in school to active shooter/lockdown drills. Although to be completely transparent, my elementary school was in a rough neighborhood and we had drive-by drills. Um, yeah. 

Look, I don’t know what the root of these incidents is. Gun control? Mental health? Bullying? I honestly, have no clue. One of the Columbine killers was a psychopath, the other was severely depressed. So again, I don’t know. I do know that whatever is driving this phenomenon has gone on too long. 

I thought after Sandy Hook some kind of change would occur. Those babies were slaughtered. Yet, nothing happened. Sending your kids to school shouldn’t be a daunting task. 

Here’s a loose list of mass shootings that have happened in the last 20 years. Full disclosure: my alma mater is on the list. (Sort of). IV ❤ 

2018 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

Prompt: a book about a problem facing society today

Challenge Update: 44/50

The Disappearing by Lori Roy

 

Two-time Edgar Award-winning author Lori Roy spins a twisted, atmospheric tale about a small Southern town where girls disappear and boys run away.

When Lane Fielding fled her isolated Florida hometown after high school for the anonymity of New York City, she swore she’d never return. But twenty years later, newly divorced and with two daughters in tow, she finds herself tending bar at the local dive and living with her parents on the historic Fielding Plantation. Here, the past haunts her and the sinister crimes of her father–the former director of an infamous boys’ school–make her as unwelcome in town as she was the day she left.

Ostracized by the people she was taught to trust, Lane’s unsteady truce with the town is rattled when her older daughter suddenly vanishes. Ten days earlier, a college student went missing, and the two disappearances at first ignite fears that a serial killer who once preyed upon the town has returned. But when Lane’s younger daughter admits to having made a new and unseemly friend, a desperate Lane attacks her hometown’s façade to discover whether her daughter’s disappearance is payback for her father’s crimes–or for her own.

With reporters descending upon the town, police combing through the swamp, and events taking increasingly disturbing turns, Lane fears she faces too many enemies and too little time to bring her daughter safely home. Powerful and heart-pounding, The Disappearing questions the endurance of family bonds, the dangers of dark rumors and small town gossip, and how sometimes home is the scariest place of all.           – Goodreads

Genre(s): Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Fiction

Publisher: Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House

Publication Date: July.17.2018


** Thank you First to Read for providing me with an e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. **

This was such a disappointing read for me. I feel like I’ve read this story before. And it has nothing to do with the fact that this book was partly inspired by true events. Which is something I did not know when I picked up this book and only read up on after finishing it. But I found it hard to immerse myself in the story when I didn’t care what happened to any of the characters in this book.

The story is told from multiple perspectives through relatively short chapters. Some parts were repetitive, which I choose to believe were done for effect. (Because if not for effect, then what was the point?) Also some of the perspectives were unnecessary. In fact, it would have added a bit more mystery to at least take out the Grandmother’s chapters. I’m not exactly sure what her point of view added to the story if I’m honest.

I also couldn’t connect with any of the characters. Lane isn’t a great mother, and Annalee, the eldest daughter, is troublesome. I didn’t care one bit for them. The only one I truly felt sorry for is Talley, the youngest daughter. That little girl has her head on straight. She figures things out that not even the adults do. 

I also saw the plot twist coming a mile away. I put this book down for several days because I knew the way it was going to end. When I finally pushed myself to pick it up again and finish, I was underwhelmed. It pulled a Gone Girl which I did not appreciate. 

Overall it is meh, an okay read. Nothing wholly original or groundbreaking. But if you’re looking for a mystery with unlikeable characters and a storyline somewhat inspired by true crime then this might just be the book for you.

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

Phew! What a captivating read!!!! A long post for such an all-encompassing book.

In a nutshell. 

The Chicago World Fair of 1893 and H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer. The history of the Chicago World Fair, from the trials and tribulations that went into building the wondrous white city to a charming young doctor that built a murder castle nearby and preyed on vulnerable women.

Two different but parallel stories taking place in the same city, within the same timeframe. Daniel Burnham, the mastermind behind the fair. H.H. Holmes, the man who built his dream hotel. 

The Devil

Dr. Herman Webster Mudgett has left his wife and moved to Chicago. He has a vision. And he sets out to make it a reality. As soon as he gets to Chicago, he takes up an alias, buys a pharmacy and from then on all hell breaks loose. 

This guy was so damn charming and criminally intelligent. Holmes managed to carry scam after scam. He owed tons of people money. Yet for 5 years, he managed to avoid his debt collectors. 5 years! And all he did was talk to them! This, more than any of the gruesome things he did, blows my mind. Well, almost.

It’s the 1890’s and young women are leaving their hometown for the allure of the big city. Easy victims for Holmes. Many of his female employees disappear. When people question their abrupt departure, Holmes always has a ready answer. 

Since the World Fair is being held in Chicago, Holmes sees the potential of building a new hotel near the fairgrounds. This however is not only another money-making scheme. This is the perfect way for him to get new victims. 

He builds a hotel straight from hell. The rooms are dreary, often windowless. Gas pipes with no apparent reason are in some rooms. (Gas pipes that only Holmes has direct control of in his own room). The hotel has strange medicinal smells. Then there’s the basement. A torture chamber. Where many women and a child met their fate. Gruesome. 

The White City

There was so much drama building the World Fair. Where would it be held? Who would build it? How will this top the Paris Exhibition? Will it be profitable? 

When Chicago was chosen as the host city, Daniel Burnham took charge of the business. Burnham was a self-made man. He had no architectural background. But his designs were good enough to earn him entrance into the architectural world. So when he was commissioned to build the fair, he brought together the best builders and designers of the time, to put Chicago on the map as a city to be reckoned with. 

Of course, his fair was a success. And from this fair, we got so many things we still see today. Shredded Wheat, Cracker Jack, zippers, automatic dishwashers, Aunt Jemima (yum!), Juicy Fruit, Pabst Blue Ribbon (beer- gross), and the Ferris Wheel. The Ferris Wheel! My favorite fair ride. And now I know the history of George Washington Gale Ferris, the man who built it, why he built it, and how. Which is pretty amazing. 

People from all over the country swarmed Chicago to visit the World Fair. There were everyday people, who were struggling with the country’s economic downfall who still managed to make it to Chicago. And there were some pretty big names as well. Harry Houdini, Tesla, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison (who provided advice on the lighting of the fair), Joplin, Clarence Darrow (Leopold & Loeb’s lawyer in the 1920’s), Helen Keller, Frank Lloyd Wright, L. Frank Baum, and future President’s: Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

Fun fact:

Elias Disney (Walt’s father), actually helped construct the fair. He was one of many workers who actually built the White City. 

Final thoughts.

There is so much information and detail packed into this book. I’m not going to lie, I found the reading to be boring at first. But then you get so immersed in the writing that before you know it, bam! You’re hooked. 

Holmes was a very very awful man. I mean, the things he did. God! And the way he got caught. That troubles me. Because he almost got away with it. With everything. Everything! Capone got caught on tax evasion. Holmes got caught on an insurance scam in Philadelphia. It was only after this arrest that the atrocities he committed began to be discovered. 

On the flip side, you have Burnham and the fair. It was an extraordinary feat. No doubt about it. Now I want to visit Chicago. Just to see all the places I read about. And try to imagine a fair of that magnitude. So much history. One of my favorite subjects. 

(In London, I went on a nighttime Jack the Ripper tour. I wonder if they have H.H. Holmes tours in Chicago?) 

Anyway, I really recommend this book. Especially if you like Criminal Minds. You will not be disappointed! 

2018 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge. Prompt: True Crime

The Stranger Game by Cylin Busby

Okay so the description of this book dragged me in. A teenage girl goes missing. Four years later she reappears with absolutely no memory of what happened to her. Her younger sister has suspicions about the girl though. 

I know there are many books with the same basic premise. A missing child suddenly reappears. What happened? And is it really them? The Leaving by Tara Altebrando comes to mind. But this book was inspired by a real case. More about this in the spoiler section at the bottom. 

Now, back to the novel.

Nico is 15 years old. The same age her older sister, Sarah, was when she went missing. Her family still hopes that Sarah will one day come back. Then they get a call. Sarah has been found. They fly to Florida to meet her and bring her home. Which is when Nico becomes suspicious. Because Sarah doesn’t look like Sarah. Once they’re back home, Nico’s suspicions only grow. This Sarah has a completely different personality. She doesn’t fit into any of her old shoes. Her natural athletic abilities are all gone. And since when is Sarah so good at math? But Nico is afraid to voice her misgivings. She hated her sister. Now, she has the big sister she always wanted. So she keeps the dark truth about Sarah’s disappearance a secret. A truth that Nico has kept to herself for four years. 

The novel is told mainly from Nico’s point of view. With alternating short chapters from Sarah’s viewpoint during her missing years. And we learn about what Sarah has gone through. Which is heart breaking, by the way. In this way, the suspense is kept up. The mystery slowly unraveling. So when the final twist happens, we’re sympathetic towards Sarah. Not really blaming her for what she’s done.

Honestly, the whole time I was reading this book and wondering if Sarah was really Sarah the same thought kept crossing my mind. Do a damn DNA test! I get why the parents didn’t want to, I guess. Apparently a visual identification was enough for everyone. Including the cops. But I don’t know. I’d want to be 100% sure. Right? Or is it just me? 

This was a quick read. I read it in one sitting. The story did have me guessing. It seems a bit unbelievable though (a DNA test!). It’s a mystery, yes. But it’s mainly the story of two sisters. Their relationship before the disappearance. And how their relationship progresses once the sister reappears. I would recommend it to anyone who likes a YA mystery. 

*SPOILER ALERT*

The rest of this post contains spoilers.

As stated above, this book was inspired by an actual missing child case. The disappearance of Nicholas Barclay. If you’ve seen the documentary The Imposter, then you’ll know who I’m talking about. If not, you can go here and read about this ongoing missing person investigation. And the stranger who impersonated the missing child. It’s really trippy. Seriously go watch the movie. It’s probably still on Netflix. 

This book left me feeling more compassionate towards Nick Barclay’s family. I always thought it was weird how they wanted the stranger to stay even though they knew he was an imposter. Sarah’s family really wanted Libby to be her. So they seem to have blocked out the differences they saw and felt in Sarah. They just really wanted their child back. And that I can completely understand.