Dear Charlie by N.D. Gomes...told from the perspective of the brother of a school shooter

Dear Charlie
Title: Dear Charlie
Series: N/A
Author: N.D. Gomes
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publication: October 20th 2016, Harlequin Mira Ink HarperCollins
Pages: 220 Pages, (ARC)
Source: Thank you LoveReading4Kids and HarperCollins for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review!
Rating: 3.5/5 cupcakes
Death should never meet the young. But it did. Thanks to my brother, death made fourteen new friends that day. Maybe even fifteen, if you count Charlie. At sixteen, Sam Macmillan is supposed to be thinking about girls, homework and his upcoming application to music college, not picking up the pieces after the school shooting that his brother Charlie committed. Yet as Sam desperately tries to hang on to the memories he has of his brother, the media storm surrounding their family threatens to destroy everything. And Sam has to question all he thought he knew about life, death, right and wrong.  

This was a difficult book to read. Not because it was bad book, but because the subject matter is so devastating. I've never read a book from the perspective of a family member of a school shooter and I've never stopped to consider how the family of a murderer would feel, how the mom would feel having lost her son in more ways than one, how the dad would feel, how the siblings would feel - I always only ever thought about the victims' families. Dear Charlie was a heart-rending, thought-provoking read and I admire the author for attempting to write about such a tragic, controversial topic.

Dear Charlie is told from the perspective of sixteen year old Sam. At this point in his life Sam should be worrying about school, falling in love with girls and practicing piano for hours upon hours in order to get a place at music college...however any sense of normality is annihilated when Sam and his family get a call that his brother was killed in a school shooting, however their shock and sadness deepens tenfold after hearing that it was their son, their sibling, that killed fourteen students, before turning the gun on himself. Sam and his parents are devastated, confused, angry...trying to deal with a situation that nobody should ever have to deal with. However, in addition to dealing with their grief, they have to deal with bricks being thrown at their windows, "Satan's house" being spray-painted on their house, not being able to buy groceries, not being able to attend schools or use services because of what their son, what their brother did. After starting at a new school a few miles from town, Sam hopes that this could be a fresh start that he can finally get a chance to prove that he will never be his brother, however with the media and most people who he comes in contact with still attacking his family every single day, Sam is struggling to see how these dark days will ever see the light.

This book made me cry on more than one occasion. It's a heartbreaking book, even more so because Sam lays bare his soul - his fears, his anger and his crippling sadness - to us, the reader. As I said before, I've never considered how the family of a shooter would feel as I always only think of the victims and their families and it was eye-opening, albeit uncomfortable and distressing, to see the desolating aftermath of receiving such shocking news. I loved Sam and I just wanted to scoop him into a massive hug. It broke my heart to see him so lost, confused, angry, broken and feeling so, so guilty. Throughout the novel his pain and guilt is a tangible thing that made me feel so awful for him. He has to deal with his alcoholic father and his mother who isn't able to function, he has to deal with hate mail and people either treating him with aggression or avoiding his existence out of fear and he has to deal with the paralyzing guilt and the constant bombardment of questions - why? How? Could I have stopped him? It was so agonizing seeing Sam plagued by all these conflicting emotions and I thought the author did an excellent job of emphasizing how terrible and sickened Sam felt - as a reader, I wanted nothing more than a happy ending for Sam.

Although I really liked Sam, I couldn't quite connect to the other characters, especially Sam's friends. They didn't really have personalities and none of them really stood out to me but I liked the fact that they took Sam under their wing and accepted him despite the horrific actions of his brother.
I wasn't quite on board with the romance either. Izzy seemed to be verging on being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and although she was sweet to Sam she didn't have suck a sparkling personality that made me understand why Sam was so enamored with her, so I would've liked for her and the other characters and the romance to be slightly more developed!

Another thing I had a slight problem with was I felt as if things were resolved too quickly and on occasion there were moments that had me thinking "Have I missed something here?". It seemed like there had just been a switch of sorts from 'not dealing with things at all' to 'it's okay' and I know that realistically, it's a slow and often harrowing and unrecognized process of going from 'I can't cope' to 'I think I'm fine'. There didn't seem to be a bridge of the healing process that linked the two and because of how stark the contrast between Sam's emotional states were there needed to be a time period that signified Sam's progress from where he was to where he is now.

Even though I had a few issues with this book, the writing was excellent. I felt as if I was Sam, I felt every single emotion he was experiencing and the author too did a spectacular job of creating a dark, oppressive atmosphere that I thoroughly felt whilst reading this book. I also admired the author's bravery in writing such a book, as I've mentioned before as it's not an easy topic to write about in a sensitive manner. I liked that this book made me think and helped me empathize with someone I'd never given much thought to.

Dear Charlie was a poignant, emotional read that dealt with a horrific situation and despite it being an uncomfortable read due to the aforementioned desolate circumstances of which it discusses, I think it's a thought-provoking book worth reading. With a lovable main character, evocative writing and challenging subject matter, Dear Charlie is a tearjerker that I believe is worth reading.

I give it: 3.5/5 cupcakes

- School shootings