By Ekta R. Garg
April 22, 2020
Genre: YA fiction
Release date: April 7, 2020
Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars
A school shooting survivor struggles after the event to resume normal life. She deals with anger and guilt and tries to run away from it all. Instead, she discovers that what she feared most is the only way to begin the healing process. Author Liz Lawson aims to add to the conversation of the effects of school shootings on young people with a story that looks too far inward in her new book The Lucky Ones.
In the suburbs of Los Angeles, high school senior May McGintee spends most of her nights one of two ways: planning to vandalize private property or actually doing it. May doesn’t just hit random houses, though. She has a specific target: the home of Michelle Teller, the defense attorney for the shooter who attacked May’s school.
While everyone has their own survivor story, May has the worst one of all. She hid in a closet of the band room when fellow senior, David Ecchles, came in and gunned down her brilliant twin brother, several friends, and her favorite teacher. Since then, May can’t deal with confined spaces. Or school. Or people in general.
In an effort to distract her from her destructive tendencies, best friend, Lucy, insists May accompany her to the audition for a band. May doesn’t care much about music anymore, but she knows Lucy is making an effort to help her so she goes. There she meets Zach, Michelle Teller’s son.
At first May doesn’t want to have anything to do with Zach. Despite her best intentions, they become friends and then maybe something more. That something more scares May. She doesn’t want Zach to find out that she was the one vandalizing his home. As Zach chips away at her defenses, May starts to realize that life might actually be bearable, even if she was one of the “lucky ones” to live the day her brother died.
Author Liz Lawson’s novel brings up important topics. With school shootings, unfortunately, becoming a common occurrence, the students who survive them need as many resources as possible. Lawson’s depiction of May comes across as representative, at times, of how many students may feel after such tragedies.
Unfortunately, May also seems so self-involved it becomes hard to sympathize with her. She blocks out the fact that other students lost loved ones in the shooting, and she pushes away, sometimes physically, their efforts to befriend her. Her belief that she alone has the right to feel pain goes from understandable to exasperating. In trying to portray May’s grief, the narrative errs too far on the side of aggression.
By contrast, Zach’s character feels more grounded. His anger at his mother for taking the infamous case will resonate with readers. Unlike May, who thinks she has no one left to care for, Zach does his best to take look out for his younger sister. Even with his own issues, he doesn’t let his ego get in the way. Lawson comes up with a winner in the way she constructed Zach.
The connection Lawson builds between May and Zach feels organic, as does the way their relationship develops. Readers will get to enjoy the natural evolution of two friends finding young love. In the moments when she isn’t agonizing about how losing her brother makes her feel, May is a lovely person.
On the whole, however, May comes across as the more dominant character. As a result, the book tips too heavily in her favor and doesn’t do its intended subject justice. An assembly meant to be a memorial for the shooting victims turns into an exercise of May’s vanity, and it comes off as self-centered at best.
The book doesn’t let the adults play any significant roles, giving in too easily to that trope of the genre. Lawson adds a minor subplot about the shooter and a possible connection to May, but it doesn’t quite hold up. In the end, the novel becomes just another story about school shootings and their aftermath. I recommend readers Borrow The Lucky Ones.