March 14, 2015

Review: Silent Alarm by Jennifer Banash

Silent Alarm

Author: Jennifer Banash
Genre: YA Contemporary
Release Date: March 10, 2015
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile


Alys’s whole world was comprised of the history project that was due, her upcoming violin audition, being held tightly in the arms of her boyfriend, Ben, and laughing with her best friend, Delilah. At least it was—until she found herself on the wrong end of a shotgun in the school library. Her suburban high school had become one of those places you hear about on the news—a place where some disaffected youth decided to end it all and take as many of his teachers and classmates with him as he could. Except, in this story, that youth was Alys’s own brother, Luke. He killed fifteen others and himself, but spared her—though she’ll never know why.

Alys’s downward spiral begins instantly, and there seems to be no bottom. A heartbreaking and beautifully told story.

Silent Alarm is a haunting young adult contemporary novel that deals with one of the terrible realities in our society - school shootings. In this novel, the main character - Alys - was just going through another typical day in the beginning of Spring when she hears the shooting begin. She's in the library, listening to classical music and working on homework, when the unthinkable happens. When the shooter finally enters the library where she's hiding with some others, she is utterly shocked when she finds a gun pointing directly at her. If this wasn't horrible enough, the shooter is Luke - Alys's older brother. Frozen in place with fear, Alys comes to terms quickly with the belief that she's about to be killed. But for unknown reasons, Luke doesn't kill her. In the end, he ended up killing fifteen students and then himself. Alys's world is a complete wreck - she's in a downward spiral and falling fast. She has to deal with others asking her questions about Luke and what happened, but she must also face her own questions about her brother and what happened that fateful day.

This book deals with one of the most devastating acts that can happen in our society - a school shooting. There have been so many of these in the last few years that it's no longer a shocking and random event, but merely another disaster that we have to hear about happening or worse, to live with it happening to our own schools. There's usually so many questions surrounding the event: What happened? Why would he/she do this? Did they snap suddenly or had they been planning this for a while? So many questions - and they all get aimed at the family of the shooter, even though they have so many questions themselves and have no answers to give. The author addresses so many of these aspects in the story, and is able to do so with such phenomenal writing and a main character who is so realistic and easy to identify with that the reader easily feels as if they are in Alys's shoes. The book is written in first person point of view from Alys's character, so we as readers get to experience everything that happens through her eyes. We see the shooting happening as if we're beside her in the library - and then afterwards when all the questions and utter heartbreak set in. Alys is so realistically written that we can easily feel her pain, confusion, guilt, and all the other various emotions that run through her mind during the book. I gives us an inside look at what it might be like if we were in her shoes and it was our brother who is branded a monster in the aftermath of the unthinkable. I really connected with Alys from the beginning and found myself empathizing with her during the whole story, which was very emotional and draining by the end of the book.

The plot is obviously nothing new or original - these things happen in real life as well as in books - but I've never read a novel about the topic. The entire story is told in a conversational tone because of the point of view, which I think gives it a better impact on the readers than any other would. Alys is a fantastic main character. She's smart, stronger than she ever thought possible, and a devoted and loving daughter and sister. She's filled with so many conflicting emotions and questions after the shooting that her life collapses around her and she feels herself getting pulled down into a very dark place. It's hard to even think about how we would respond to a situation like she must, but the book gives us a heartbreaking idea of what it might be like. Even though the plot of the book is so horrible, the story the author writes for Alys is beautiful and completely mesmerizing. I never thought that an author would be able to make me slip into a world where it felt like my own sibling had done this terrible act, but she was able to do it from the beginning sentences. I was so wrapped up in the book that I couldn't stop reading it until I was finished - which ended up happening in one sitting over a few hours. I didn't want to stop or break the connection I had with the characters as well as the experience I was having while reading. There were so many different emotions and thoughts that went through my head while reading the book - ones that made me react in a visceral way, which doesn't normally happen to me while reading unless a book really gets inside my head and heart. It sounds weird to describe a book about a school shooting as beautiful and enchanting, but that's exactly what this novel is. I can't find the right words to describe how this book effected me or what it is exactly that makes it so powerful and moving. It's one of those novels you have to experience for yourself to understand. I highly recommend this book to all readers, regardless of genre preference or age. The topic that is discussed effects everyone in society, and I believe that this book should be read by everyone as well. It's definitely not what I expected, but it far surpassed any hopes I might have had before reading it.

 I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. A huge thanks to the wonderful people at Penguin Teen for sending me a copy of the book for review!


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