This is Where it Ends starts at 10 a.m. in the small town of Opportunity, and the Opportunity High School. The principal is putting on a speech for every kid of every grade in the auditorium. Five minutes in, the doors won't open. A boy walks in. Tyler Browne, a former high school dropout who reenrolled just this semester. And he reveals something in his pocket; a gun, and uses it automatically, not on the wall or on anyone's leg, but the heads and hearts of anyone who's picked on him and anyone who tries to stop him and anyone who refuses his requests, and now we have our book.
This is a tough kind of book to write. The books I write usually take place over a few days to a few weeks. There are some books I've read that either do that or take place over several months or a year. Some even longer, like The Glass Castle or the Red Rising trilogy. But I can't remember a book that takes place over as little time as this one. This book switches places with characters constantly, with every 1 page minimum and every 6 pages maximum. And I was not looking forward to reading the rest of this book after the first 40 pages. The way each chapter takes place over 1 to a few minutes felt more in-my-face rather than delightfully-different, which is what I think Marieke Nijkamp was going for. And the back stories, and there are several back stories, felt more filler than important to the plot. That isn't always terrible; there can be several details in a story that have nothing to do with the end result but this seemed to overly stall. Anyone who knows me knows I detest short story books; ones that tell so many stories there's no real plot. This isn't one of those, but sometimes it feels close, which is a disadvantage when you both have several different perspectives and it takes place over as little time as this book.
But this book found its way to win me back with personallific characters and clever connections to the school shooting. Marieke Nijkamp thought up brilliant ways to show relations to these characters who seem to have nothing in common; Claire is a cross-country runner with a boyfriend Matt and an older sister Tracy who went into the army. Tomas is a delinquent trying to erase the records of his Muslim friend Fareed after escaping detention. Autumn is Tyler's sister who is concerned for him after he reenrolled and who's . And Sylv is Tomas's sister and is in love (girl with girl) with Autumn.
One story problem I found is when Tomas is picking the lock. What I was thinking was, "Wasn't the lock put on the doors from the inside? Did Tomas go through a vent or something?" And yes, there are some shootings that are just painful to read and keep reading about, but maybe that was the point, to pay tribute to school shootings in general by creating an antagonist we can't root for.
The writing especially perks up to my taste after the second half, when it really shines with emotions and what the kids are fighting for; for a thousand tomorrows. That was my favourite line. The book also made me think dearly about how I wanted it to end: Do I want Tyler caught? Probably, but that would be predictable. Do I want a big gunfight? That would be maybe better. Do I want Tyler to escape? I hate him, but maybe, for an original story's sake. I was also curious if Tyler was going to be able to get to all the heroes we follow, and the closer he got, the more time went by and the book basically went from a last-minute Worst to just okay enough to warrant a recommendation. It went from an F to a B-. Crazy, right?
I also liked its idea of Tyler trying to "win". And the ending is the most important part, which I have stressed more than enough. It somehow managed to shock me and pay tribute at the same time.
Here's a way I can really explain "This is Where it Ends." A little while ago, I read a book called "Variant." And it was easy to get through and fun to flip through but it seemed to sacrifice character development and substance doing so. This book is like Variant completely backwards. Is this book action packed? No. Is it exciting? Depends on your reading tastes, and if you can be plot patient. Does it have good characters? That was kind of the point all along. And that's how many readers will remember this standalone book.