This Is Where It Ends

  • By Marieke Nijkamp
  • Sourcebooks Fire
  • 288 pp.
  • Reviewed by Shannon Lee Alexander
  • December 31, 2015

In just 54 minutes, everything can change.

This Is Where It Ends

“Everyone has a reason to fear the boy with the gun,” reads the tagline to This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp. Told in multiple points of view, the novel illustrates the harrowing and gory details of a 54-minute attack on a small-town American high school.

Everyone at Opportunity High School is gathered in the auditorium for the principal’s beginning-of-term assembly. A lone gunman uses this occasion to lock the auditorium doors, turning the space into his own personal “shooting range.” Tyler Browne, town outcast, has a few scores to settle.

Autumn Browne, Tyler’s younger sister, wants to leave Opportunity, Alabama, behind, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and dance on stages around the world. She’ll be happy to be far away from her abusive father. She’s counting on her girlfriend Sylvia to come with her, but Sylvia is torn between her dreams of the future and the growing need to stay behind in Opportunity and care for her ailing mother.

Tomás, Sylvia’s twin brother, is the school prankster, which is why he isn’t in the auditorium for the assembly, but is sneaking around the school instead. Claire, Tyler’s ex-girlfriend, has a last-minute track practice this morning. She and her teammates are running outside in the frigid January air when the first shots are fired. Claire and Tomás decide to help their trapped friends and family, even if it puts their own lives in danger.

Nijkamp, an executive member of We Need Diverse Books and the founder of DiversifYA, has made conscious choices to include a diverse cast of characters in This Is Where It Ends. The use of voices from a variety of races, ethnicities, disabilities, and sexual identities shows readers the untold effects of school violence.

After seeing the breathtaking cover and reading the jacket copy, I hoped This Is Where It Ends would deliver an emotionally impactful story. In the end, I was left wanting more from the book than it had to offer. In order to keep the plot’s brisk pace, Nijkamp frequently jumps from voice to voice, an ambitious choice that impedes meaningful character development. The enormous cast of secondary characters, including some only seen through social media posts, is often overwhelming and in many cases unnecessary. However, the story is tightly plotted and the use of time stamps drives home the idea that our lives can change in the blink of an eye.

As fate would have it, I was reading This Is Where It Ends on the same day a gunman drove onto the Arkansas State University campus, threatening the safety of countless people, including an old friend of mine. It was surreal to simultaneously follow the story of the teens in the book along with the social-media posts from a friend in a similarly threatening situation. Today’s American teens face the possibility of gun violence every day at school.

Books like This Is Where It Ends give readers a safe space for experiencing a terrifying reality. This book opens a door for questions and discussions that can help people better understand school violence and perhaps even lead us toward a solution. For anyone who attending, working, or volunteering in schools, This is Where it Ends, is an essential read.

Shannon Lee Alexander is a wife and mother (of two kids and one yellow terrier named Harriet Potter). She is passionate about coffee, books, and cancer research. Math makes her break out in a sweat. Love and Other Unknown Variables is her debut novel. The companion, Life after Juliet, releases July 2016 from Entangled Teen. She lives in Indianapolis with her family.

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