So I went into this expecting something like EVERY MOMENT AFTER by Joseph Moldover or HATE LIST by Jennifer Brown: a book that looks at the uncomfortable topics of school shootings and survivor's guilt, but in a really nuanced and complex way. Instead, I got a book that falls into the genre of what I call "mental illness tourism," which basically hinges the usual teen romance formula on an over-dramatized portrayal of teens who are either neurodivergent or suffering from mental health disorders.
THE LUCKY ONES does some things right, in that it shows how we can blame ourselves over things we have little to no control over, and look for meaning in things that sometimes defy any semblance of rational explanation. It also brings attention to a national crisis: how easy it is to get guns, and how devastating the consequences of that can be to a community if a gun falls into the wrong hands.
I really did not like the portrayal of either of these characters, though. The two characters are May and Zach. Zach is the son of the lawyer who is defending the shooter and May is the only survivor of the classroom that was brutalized. The two of them end up falling for one another-- but only after a hiccup in which May gets really angry at Zach for being the son of her enemy. I'm not going to lie... May was completely unbearable for the first 100 or so pages. And I am saying this as someone who used to get pretty bad panic attacks; I did not like how this was repped. It felt needlessly dramatic, a point underscored by the fact that the EVIL faculty members at her so-called school actually force May to give a speech about her bravery or some garbage like that, only to provide a platform for a public breakdown.
That's a trope I really hate, FYI. It seems like in books like these, characters are always put into really uncomfortable positions, just so they can break down before an audience. At that point, it almost becomes more about the illness and less about the person, if you know what I mean.
Lastly, in the author's note, the author says something about how a teacher she knows learned to fire guns to defend herself and her class in case there was an actual shooting and then says that "knowing how to shoot a gun should not be a prerequisite for an educator." I found that really upsetting because it felt like it was falling into the whole, "we need good guys with guns to defend against bad guys with guns" argument, when actually, the problem is that we have too many people with guns-- period.
The whole book just felt really inconsistent in tone to me. I do believe the author was coming from a good place but I don't really feel like she did the message justice, maybe because it comes into conflict with her own personal views. The portrayal of PTSD and anxiety was cringe, and I don't feel like Zach's lawyer mom was really given enough page time to explain why she was doing what she was doing, and why Zach really took issue about it-- he said he was worried about bullying, yes, and what it would mean for his reputation, but the underlying reasons-- the politics-- were not discussed.
Also, on that note, for a book about gun violence, there was very little talk about guns or gun control. This was also "semi" addressed in the author's note with a "not all mentally ill people are violent" PSA, but again, mental illness isn't the reason that there's gun violence: it's the guns. Europe and the UK have mentally ill people, some of whom are a danger to themselves and others, but again-- they don't have gun violence because-- again-- they don't have guns. If this was an exercise to try to be more open-minded and address serious issues that are very current right now, good for her. But I thought she did a really bad job, and that's my personal opinion, biased in part by my own beliefs on gun control and the representation of mental illness (as an actual anxiety/panic attack sufferer).
Your mileage may vary.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars