I’m fairly sure that this is the longest book review that I have written, I have tried to cut it down but can’t, it seems that I have a lot to say about A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold and feel the need to say it! It is also the first review that I have done that could be classed as giving away spoilers, although being a non-fiction book that doesn’t tell the reader anything that isn’t already ‘out there’ I’m not sure whether you can really class them as spoilers.
My 3* review:
I have to admit that while reading this book I did ask myself why I had wanted to read it. As a big crime fiction fan, I do find myself interested in real crime, especially the more unusual cases. I remember the shooting at Columbine high school in America, I remember being horrified that something like that could happen in a school and trying to comprehend why two teenage boys would decide to go on a rampage in their own school.
I am thankful that gun laws in the UK prevent this sort of thing from happening, and I’ve always been horrified at the subsequent school shootings that have happened since Columbine. I have to admit that part of me is fascinated about what would make someone shoot children in a school, and what type of upbringing might cause someone to do that.
So when I came across A Mother’s Reckoning I wanted to read it, I wanted to understand what had happened at Columbine and how Dylan’s parents coped with the aftermath. I wanted to know whether the author would try to minimise her son’s involvement or paint herself as a wonderful mother who did nothing wrong? I had many questions.
The first half of this book is incredibly depressing to read. It is clear that Sue Klebold descended into a very dark place after the shooting and she uses the pages to vomit those feelings out onto the reader. I got to 50% through and had to take a break, I could feel my own thoughts becoming darker and knew that I had to step away from the book. I read two fiction books before returning, bracing myself for more.
Perhaps because I was prepared for it the second half was not as deeply depressing as the first. In fact, the second half actually said very little that wasn’t in the first half, this book is very repetitive. We hear, again and again, and again, how Sue and her now ex-husband had not noticed anything with Dylan that they hadn’t put down to normal teenage angst and how if she had suspected anything then she would have forced Dylan to get help and that then Dylan wouldn’t have felt so desperate and wouldn’t have killed so many people. I’m simplifying it, but basically, Sue Klebold obviously thinks that she could have saved the day if only she’d noticed.
Another thing that Klebold focuses on is what she calls ‘brain illness’. She does eventually give a brief explanation of why she says brain illness rather than mental health but if I’m honest, by then I was past caring about the why as it had become so annoying that I just wanted her to stop it and call it what it is. Brain illness makes no sense to me, sure, I understand that when you have mental health problems that your brain doesn’t work as it should, but does it have an illness? If my kidney’s stop working properly I don’t say that I have kidney illness, or a leg illness when I’ve broken my bone. You get the point, but it’s annoying and unnecessary. And yes, I do have mental health problems so feel that I am able to say that I hate ‘brain illness’.
It was interesting to read about Klebold’s denial around what her son did and how that denial was smashed when the police sat her down and told her step by step, what had happened during the rampage that Dylan and his friend Eric went on, including who shot who. It is made clear to us that Dylan shot fewer people than Eric and that he had spared a few people, telling them to run instead of shooting them. While these may be true facts it did feel that Klebold had emphasised them to make sure that we know that her son was not the worst.
It is clear that Klebold sees Eric as the bad one and that without him in his life Dylan would never have done such terrible things. Klebold acknowledges that Dylan had mental health (sorry, brain illness) problems that were undiagnosed and tells us repeatedly that Dylan was suicidal yet unable to kill himself, but so desperate was he to die that he went along with Eric’s plan to kill others, something that both boys knew would end in their deaths too. Klebold does talk about the memorials for the victims, she tells us that originally two crosses had been put there for Dylan and Eric but they had been destroyed. I can’t help but feel that she thinks that Dylan deserves a cross, that he too was a victim in all of this.
Since finishing this book I have done some more research into Dylan especially, but also Eric and the shootings. It is clear that there were more signs that Dylan was in trouble, like clear anger management issues, that were not mentioned in the book. This is not a short book and as I said it is very repetitive so there was plenty of room for Klebold to tell us about this, but I guess that she didn’t want to. Which makes me question the rest of the book, and what else she decided not to tell us.
What Klebold had to go through must have been beyond horrific and I do feel compassion towards her. She has clearly gone on to do a lot of good, supporting others who have lost children to suicide and reaching out to other parents of school shooters. The fact that she managed to get through what happened and put it to something positive is commendable.
However, I’m not really sure what she wanted to achieve with this book. The focus of the book is, understandably, on Dylan and although she tells us many times that she is very sorry about the people that were hurt by her son the victims seem to be almost forgotten and, in many ways, irrelevant. The book is far longer than it needed to be, mainly because of the repetitiveness which is a shame, this book could be a very powerful tool, helping parents to look at their children and see signs that may suggest that their child needs help and support. Instead, Klebold comes across as quite preachy and arrogant, placing blame with many people and institutions, but not with Dylan and certainly not with herself.
I received a copy of A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold from the publishers via Netgalley, I was under no obligation to review the book and all thoughts are my own.
On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.
For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?
These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.
Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, A Mother’s Reckoning is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time. And with fresh wounds from the recent Newtown and Charleston shootings, never has the need for understanding been more urgent.
All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.