Thoughts on "The Lucky Ones" by Liz Lawson

4.14.2020


Thank you to Random House for providing me with an advanced reader copy for review. Receiving this galley does not impact my opinion of the book.


"I want to say the exact right thing, the thing that will take away all her pain and her grief and her guilt, but I know those words don't exist."

In The Lucky Ones, teenagers May and Zach struggle with the aftermath of a school shooting. For May, attending a new high school not even a year after her twin brother Jordan was killed in the band classroom where she hid feels impossible. For Zach, social isolation and family problems abound when his mother, a lawyer, decides to defend the school shooter. A chance meeting unites the two, and together they grieve, learn, and heal. Liz Lawson's debut novel explores the consequences of school shootings, too often forgotten after the cameras leave and the news quiets, on young survivors.

I was a junior in high school when the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, occurred. I was angry: angry that lockdown drills had become so normal that shutting down class was seen not as a horror but as a chance to miss schoolwork, angry that so many people had cried for change and nothing changed, angry that the news and the public had seen and forgotten again, and again, and again. I had the opportunity to give a modified version of this speech at my school's walkout to recognize victims of gun violence in American schools. At the walkout, I was angry. But I was also hopeful. Seeing my peers, all of us teenagers, organize and advocate for something we believed in made me so proud of my community.

Reading The Lucky Ones transported me back to standing with students behind my high school's library and protesting with crowds as we encircled my state capital building during the March for Our Lives. I felt May's anger, raging against her circumstances and sometimes even herself. I felt Lucy's hope, resilient as she remains a caring friend for May although she too grapples with loss. I felt pride in each of the characters, who strive to live even when faced with relentless grief and tragedy.

Most of all, I felt power in being a teenager. Few times have I read a YA book that I felt accurately depicted how teens communicate, think, and act, but The Lucky Ones's greatest success is the authenticity of its teen voices. Lawson crafts her teen characters with individual interests and backgrounds, avoiding the broad generalizations that prevent many YA characters from being realistic. Conor, for example, thinks about playing music with his band and romance with Lucy, but these are not the sole attributes that define his character. He is not popular by a default stereotype, but because his charisma commands attention. Conor struggles with his own issues at home, but still seeks to support his friend Zach to the best of his ability.

May, in contrast, is a much angrier character-- and that's the point. She lashes out at teachers, other students who try to be consoling, and her family. Lawson juxtaposes May's lonely and hurt perspective with the efforts of May's community to move on from the event to remind that individuals process grief in different ways at different paces. May's experience diverges from that of her parents, who acknowledge May less after Jordan's death, and even from that of other survivors of the school shooting, some of whom develop support groups and anticipate a school memorial that May dreads.

Lawson's investigation of the characters' emotions and motivations for acting humanizes them. May's fury and grief most explicitly exemplifies this idea, but Lawson explores all of her characters through meaningful relationships. Conversations between Zach and his mother, for instance, probe how hateful messages and distance have impacted Zach's mother after choosing to defend the shooter.

The Lucky Ones is a story for teens and for those who must endure. May's perspective tells not a story of a victim finding salvation from tragedy through a new romance, but of a survivor who gains strength from the hope of her loved ones.

-★★★★-

Check out my interview with author Liz Lawson here!



12 comments :

  1. The theme is really important and if I didn't know about it, I'm now curious

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  2. I'm sorry that you had to go through lockdown drills and that school shootings are a real issue in your schools. I am glad that you loved this book though, and that your experiences in real life enhance your reading experience.
    I'll be adding this to my TBR - thank you for your well-written review!

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  3. I'm happy to see this book lived up to the hype! I've seen it all over the blogosphere, but this is the first review I've read for it. Personally, we didn't have many lockdown drills growing up, but my son has already had several, and he's in Kindergarten. I hate that this is something he sees as normal.

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 😷💬

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  4. Oh wow, this book sounds so good and so timely. And it's good to hear that the teen voices sound authentic--I'm far from my teenage years, but there are times I can just tell when YA books aren't authentic representations of teens. We didn't have lockdown drills when I was growing up, but it's something that my kids will see as normal no doubt.

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  5. I still can't fathom a world where people protest against keeping children safe, clutching their guns because of an outdated law that was instilled centuries ago. That owning a weapon is more important than keeping our children, friends and members of our communities safe. This sounds like a remarkable read and although traumatic, that the focus is on empowering survivors. A beautiful Claire and thank you for putting this on my radar!

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  6. This sounds like such a timely and impactful story. It's beyond sad that school lockdowns and active shooter drills are now part of the norm. :(

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  7. Oh wow, this sounds like a really powerful read. I don't remember school shootings happening when I was in school but that was a different world. Violence in schools happens all too often that this sounds like a really important story. I am so glad you enjoyed it!

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  8. I felt (and still feel) the same way regarding the shootings. I was a senior when the Parkland shooting occurred and students at my school held a walkout later that year in protest of the gun violence and school shootings that had become so normalized. Having gone through a lockdown situation for an actual shooting, it is not an issue to be taken lightly or to ignore. People need to spread more awareness about how this is actually affecting students in their everyday lives, so I really appreciate this book. Awesome review, Claire!

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  9. Beautiful review! There have been so many school shootings in my lifetime and it's just heartbreaking every time. I hate that things aren't changing all over, or not fast enough. I love that you held a walk out at your high school - that's fantastic!!! This book sounds amazing, and emotional, and like a must-read.

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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  10. This was a great, obviously heartfelt review. I'm sorry to hear you shared a hard experience with the characters, but I'm happy that there are books in this world that can speak to teens in the right way and help them ease their pain.

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