Nothing but Life

Dundurn. Mar. 2021. 304p. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781459746183.
Gr 9 Up–Fifteen-year-old Wendell “Dills” Sims physically survived the shooting at Windsor High School, but he has not fared well emotionally since. Not only did he witness his best friend and others die, but his beloved stepfather, Jesse, was the shooter. Seeking a fresh start, Dills’s mom moves them to a new town—her hometown—after the tragedy. But Dills hears Jesse’s voice beckoning him to return to Windsor, where he lies in a coma after trying to kill himself at the end of the massacre. Despite several obstacles in his path, Dills knows he must see Jesse in hopes of gaining some closure. Though Dills will never know if Jesse intended to kill him that day, he needs to confront his unresolved feelings, including why he has such a hard time hating Jesse. Van Staalduinen writes with clarity and ease, moving the plot along at a quick pace that keeps readers engaged. He is able to convey empathy for not just the victims of the shooting, but for all parties touched by its ripple effect. He aptly portrays the complexities behind human fallacies and shows how difficult it is to neatly categorize people. There are some passages that could be read as anti-Israel, though that is not the focus of the book. Dills’s friend Gal, who is Israeli, is well-drawn. Another character, Mia, is Palestinian. Their friendship is nuanced and well-crafted. Dills and his family are cued as white, except for an aunt who is Korean.
VERDICT A moving portrayal of a complex situation that will appeal to teenagers mature enough to read about school shootings.

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