The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.
The auditorium doors won't open.
Someone starts shooting.
Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.
Now, I admit to being a wee bit, shall we say, testy, when it comes to Tumblr tags.
Well, more like, commonly used Tumblr tags.
(Which to say, if you use the words, guys why aren't we talking about, or its twin, can we talk about, or THIS NEEDS MORE NOTES BOOST BOOST BOOST - I will reach for my teacup, take a soothing, silent sip with my eyes firmly clenched shut.
And scroll by.
No. I'm kidding. I just do that for the Benedict Cumberbatch posts now.
Goodness only knows that man doesn't need my boosting.)
But, my knee-jerk, first things first thought on closing This Is Where It Ends could be summed up in three words.
"I'm not okay."
And that, I think, is okay. Because this is a book that ends on a note that you should absolutely, 100% not be okay with.
This Is Where It Ends is deeply, darkly visceral and gripping. It takes you by the throat and tugs you downward into emotional compromise and utter panic. It all too realistically portrays every parent or guardian's nightmare and the event that every student cannot imagine occurring on their campus, to their friends, in their lifetime.
In the span of 54 minutes - just 54 - every student and faculty member present in the auditorium of Opportunity High School, Alabama, is fighting for their lives against one boy, one of their own. Only now, instead of being their brother or classmate or ex-boyfriend...
He's the boy with the gun.
I mean, the summary alone should tell you what's coming. I'm not sure how I still was so detached from what was coming at the very beginning, but Marieke makes sure to acclimate you to the assembled cast. They are ordinary, wonderfully diverse American teens. They are bored by the principal's default sermon to usher in the new semester, worried about younger siblings or fraying relationships or trouble at home.
They are all expecting to stand up, gather their belongings and file off to their relevant classrooms.
And that's what starts to drive this home, as things go from bad to...I don't know, is there something past utterly wrong and tormenting? What frightens us about a school shooting is that it can happen anywhere. On my campus, we talk in orientation about what we should do, where we should go, who we should listen to. We're introduced to the emergency phones, the fire escapes, the concept of being calm, quiet and orderly no matter what catastrophe has us in its clutches.
But there's a difference between hearing about that and being thrust headlong into it.
And, though everyone in This Is Where It Ends reacts differently, I had to tear up and press my fist to my mouth for all of them. Because you never know how you will react. You never know what action may be the last you take on - even if it's something that will make you a hero.
The narrative is beautiful, equalizing and real. I gave a particularly watery smile in a moment where Tomas and Fareed, best friends and brothers no matter what - in a situation where it truly, deeply counts and cuts into you - are doing their best to rescue their classmates, friends and siblings.
Even in that moment, waiting for some sort of outside help and trying to form a solid strategy, Tomas spares a thought for Fareed and how, with his Afghani heritage, accent and Muslim faith, he may seem a threat to the police officers rather than a hero:
Next thing, they'll mark him as a suspect. It wouldn't be the first time. Things happen in the school, and he gets questioned, even when it doesn't concern him at all. I hate it.
You know me. Even when my heart is in my throat and I'm turning pages as fast as I can without cutting myself, I've got that eye for Muslim representation.
I found myself getting very reluctantly attached to all the teens, but Fareed in particular had me closing my eyes and telepathically wiring messages to Marieke's brain: Marieke, I love you. You wouldn't do this to me, right? ...Right?
(For all the scientifically minded, the fact that Marieke has shown no sign of receiving said messages concludes that we have yet to break the telepathic barrier.
Or maybe it's just me and you should get a better test subject.
Anyway - and avert your eyes, because this may or may not be a spoiler! - she didn't do it to me. She's evil. But not that evil.)
I think the thing that hit me the hardest about This Is Where It Ends is that skillful blend of tragedy and hope, darkness and light. Some of it felt a little strange to me - a first kiss in the middle of worrying over a wounded, potentially dying sibling, for instance - but I'm holding off on the judgey side because, again, who the heck knows what they'd do in a particular situation when they don't know what else is going to happen?
I certainly don't. And I have plenty of witnesses that can confirm that I don't claim to know everything. Okay? Okay.
But, overall...the ending. It just catches in your throat. Nothing is going to be okay. I started the preview off on that note. I'm telling you right now, guys. Nothing is going to be okay.
Newtown happened. The Aurora shooting happened. Columbine happened. Everyday, there's something vicious and violent that bites down into our world and rips families and friends and loved ones apart, leaving us to grieve with no proper answers and no promise that we'd ever feel whole or healed again.
It's not okay. It's never okay. But one way or another, we will never forget. And we will never lose hope.
"We will remember them tomorrow. We will remember them for all our tomorrows. And there will be many tomorrows; there will be thousands of them. So let's make them good ones. We are Opportunity, and we will not be afraid.Full review to come.
We are Opportunity, and we will live."
I will warn you, though, since Ashleigh Paige warned me...there will be tears. Lots of tears. Invest in a nice, sturdy, loving box of Kleenex. You'll thank me later.