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To begin, I will try to avoid approaching this from the emotional terror and disaster that was December 14, 2012. I want to purely begin this with a review on the author’s writing and the telling of this story. I will indulge my own opinion at the end. This will allow for you to get a better idea of the quality of the book itself, aside from the education piece pertaining to this unfortunate day in history.
The beginning of the book introduces you to many of the families affected by this day and their stories of the morning of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting. It is very difficult to keep track of the names and organize the “characters” the author describes as he tries to create a connection between the families and the reader. Of course each reader will care for these families and will grieve with the rest of the world over this tragedy; but it was too much to ask a reader who is relatively unfamiliar with the actual facts of the case to keep track of the many stories to be told by each family. If he wanted to emphasize the families more, he should have told the stories individually and not morphed them together. This would have created a kind of organization that would have been easier to keep track of.
The authors description of the day of tragedy was also seemingly jumbled. Between each of the different classrooms and the chaos occurring in each, it was difficult to remember what teacher was in what room and their reactions regarding the sounds. Every detail in those moments was so important and I didn’t want to mix up the victims, but found myself going back and forth between pages to try and keep it organized. The heroics of each teacher and the decisions they made will tell the world of their legacy, which is why I felt such a burden to remember the details.
When Matthew Lysiak moved to the stories of the first responders in chapter 9, I became emotional. Between the bravery and strength being told in an open and honest way, I found myself weeping. Because it is difficult to relate to an active shooter situation, we can all relate to the idea of the terrifying sights that occurred after. Americans don’t often find themselves confronted with true horror. We are isolated from many tragedies like this and only read about them as they are reported by the media. This brings you face to face with the perverse decisions of a mentally ill human being.
The chapters discussing the funerals of the victims were far harder than reading what actually happened to them, for me personally. This was because Matthew Lysiak did an excellent job of connecting you to the humans behind his words. These were not easy words to read. Often I read on my lunch breaks at work, and I found myself hiding my watery eyes at my desk.
His final chapters reviewed how the town was affected. He illustrated how the tragedy impacted each and every part of the town- from the families, to the businesses, and even to the churches. There was little, if any, that he missed in showing the true impact of this event. I would not have known how this kind of event effects and entire city if it were not for his education on the matter.
Lysiak told the readers what some of the families did in the aftermath of this tragedy- promoting stronger gun laws- but the author prevented showing any biases or opinions he may hold on the issue. This was a very respectable decision in my opinion.
The largest focus and appeal of this book is the desire to promote mental health interventions as well as removing the stigma that all too often come with these. Lysiak shows the growing movement for stronger assistance in mental health. This begins the creation of an outlet for parents and families in need of help. He also featured ideas from “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” written by Liza Long- a mother who has a son with mental illness that is prone to violent outbursts.
The only thing I wish this book included more of is the state of Adam Lanza’s mental health. Any information into the state of Lanza’s mind would help me personally understand why he did this. The need to know WHY is what drove me to read this book- a book on a rather depressing topic might I add. After reading Columbine by Dave Cullen, I felt I had a better understanding of the minds of the killers and was able to see where I, as a citizen, can change my behavior for the benefit of society. We may never be privileged to get answers to “why”- but I really hope it comes. There was such limited information on Adam Lanza’s life that I’m sure this also impacts the difficulty of writing a book like this.
His final thoughts on the matter were those primarily of hope. The outpouring of love during this tragedy came from all over the world. We have all been affected by it. The events do not exclude anyone. When things like this happen, we are all affected, and all of our hearts break.
Dr. Carolyn L. Mears said this when referring to the journey she and the community of Littleton, Colorado went through in the aftermath of Columbine; “As a Columbine mom I can tell you it’s a long road. It has its challenges and stumbling blocks but it also has great potential for revealing what is absolutely beautiful about humanity, that transformative nature of trauma. It can be very positive, but also, in some cases, can never be resolved. Some of the long-lasting damage will be irreversible.”
There was a strong message of hope. We are not helpless, but we are not done fighting (or running this marathon- as Dr. Mears- mother from Columbine mentioned in the final chapters). We are not done. Newtown will always be recovering and healing, but they are not helpless. They have found a new power in this tragedy- a power many parents are utilizing for activism.
Keep the momentum going after you read this; don’t stop at the shock of the actions of a sick young man. Keep feeling the pressure of the question “why” and let it drive us to change.