Book Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (5/5) One of the darkest and scariest books I’ve ever read.

17 Mar

I finished my first ebook! I decided a few months ago to download a book on my phone so I’d have something to read in all of those spare minutes we have in life; waiting in line at the grocery, eating breakfast, sitting at the doctor’s office, etc. I’m really glad I did it because it helped me find and enjoy this gem of a book that was first recommended on my page-a-day book calendar.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Eva Khatchadourian’s son committed a heinous crime, murdering eleven people and making national headlines as a school shooter. Eva visits Kevin in his juvenile detention center and the interactions prompt her to write letters to her ex-husband, Franklin. Her series of letters take the writer back over 18 years to before Kevin was born. She tells us about how she and Franklin decided to have children, how difficult it was for her to care for baby Kevin, and her frustrations as he grew up. Her letters build layers upon layers of depth to the act that Kevin committed while not yet revealing why he did it or how. The reader is introduced to the victims families and those who Eva now associates, having sold her prosperous business to pay for legal lawyers. The two timelines, present and past reflection, converge on the Thursday Kevin committed the crime in a way that will make you late for work so you can finish reading it.

I watched an interview wish Shriver on YouTube and she talked a lot about what she was trying to say with this book. Her opinion along the Nature v. Nurture lines is pretty clear in this book. Eva tried to be a good mother and Franklin was a loving father, but Kevin himself was not going to be a good child. Kevin and Celia received almost identical upbringings and turned out as different as Mother Teresa and Hitler. When we hear a child crying in church or screaming at a restaurant, our initial thought is to blame the parents. “Why can’t they keep that kid quiet?” “Just give the darn kid back his toy so he’ll shut up and we can get back to what we’re doing.” A parent can only do so much to control their child because each human being has the ability to make choices: their own free will. No matter what Eva and Franklin did, they couldn’t change Kevin.

As the reader, I never knew what to feel for Kevin. the smallest part of me felt bad for him because his mother didn’t really love him or trust him at all. Most of me hated him and no part of me could understand why he did what he did. His desire to destroy, to kill, wasn’t something I could understand. He wanted to do something that mattered, that people would pay attention to, and instead of a creative outlet or a political stand, he committed a crime. More pointedly, he killed those who were trying to make a name for themselves through political or creative means. I loved what Shriver did with this piece and how much I loved Eva and pitied her and wanted to throw Kevin across the room myself. This was so well written.

This book is so timely because of its topic. School shootings have made news headlines for the last 20 years at least, all of my conscience memory. The past year saw a higher number than I can remember, maybe rivaled by copy-cats after Columbine. It seems to me that the media is obsessed with these incidents, going into depth about the killers, their motivations and how rough their childhoods were. I personally hate giving these men and woman (though more often men) our attentions. It seems a reward for what they did. I think this book agrees with that; we give those who do bad things so much more attention than those who contribute positively to our society. Kevin asks if he would be on TV if he got an A in Geometry. No, he wouldn’t. He’s on TV because he killed 9 people. We seem almost obsessed with violence and death and the news medias don’t help. Maybe we as a society are to blame because it seems obvious that Eva is not.

I watched the movie Friday night and it was true to the book but had one major difference. In the book, we know what Kevin did rather early on in the book and we slowly see how that day came to pass. We see the little things that drove that to happen. In the movie, only the ending reveals Kevin’s crime. Until then, the moviegoer doesn’t know why Kevin’s in jail, what terrible thing he could have done that ruined his family and mother. I almost wish I hadn’t told my husband about what I was reading. He knew how the movie ended, to an extent. I like both approaches to the story but as a reader first, preferred the book. If you’ve read the book and seen the movie, what did you think about the two approaches to the story?

Writer’s Takeaway: Shriver blew me out of the water with this book. She wrote a character that I came to know and understand so well in Eva and a character that I couldn’t understand or relate to in Kevin. She made Franklin both lovable and hated and had these three characters interact in a way that was so logical yet tragic that I wanted to scream and cry. Does that seem over dramatic? Maybe a bit, but it’s all true.

Her approach to the story was very inventive, using the letter format to take the reader backward and forward in time seamlessly worked well. Since flashbacks tend to be awkward in most books, I recommend something like this for a plot that’s destined to be riddled with the haze of memory.

A wonderful read and I highly recommend it. 5 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver | Review | The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say shhh!
Review | We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver | Literary Treats
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN by Lionel Shriver | Tipping My Fedora
Book | We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver | The Word in Edgewise
Lionel Shriver – We Need to Talk About Kevin (Book Review) | Cult of the New


8 Responses to “Book Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (5/5) One of the darkest and scariest books I’ve ever read.”

  1. readingcook March 18, 2014 at 11:19 AM #

    I had already decided that this book was not for me, but now that I have read your take on it, I may reconsider. I will also check out the YouTube piece with the author that you referenced. I especially appreciate your comments relating to the quality of writing in this book. I haven’t read anything by this author, but you certainly make a case that I should despite my hesitation about the plot. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts.


    • Sam March 18, 2014 at 11:52 AM #

      Even if you saw the movie and didn’t like it, I still think reading the book is well worth your time. Shriver weaves an incredible story and her pacing is something that I, as a writer, will strive to imitate. I hope you can find the time to read it!


  2. lynnsbooks March 18, 2014 at 6:13 PM #

    It’s a strange book. I think it must have taken me about 80/90 pages to get into it – and it was tough going there for a while. But then, I was just sucked into the story and couldn’t put it down. Absolutely, horrifyingly, compelling.
    Lynn 😀


    • Sam March 18, 2014 at 9:26 PM #

      I completely agree. I loved it and was terrified of it at the same time. What a great book


  3. Cathy746books March 19, 2014 at 8:18 AM #

    I thought the book was excellent and the movie was too. The adaptation was quite faithful, but I thought took a less ambiguous view of why Kevin was as he was. The movie looks stunning, visually and Tilda Swinton is fantastic.


    • Sam March 19, 2014 at 8:20 AM #

      I thought the boy who played 6-year-old Kevin was amazing. He acted so well for someone his age.

      I think the filmmakers did as well as they could with explaining Kevin’s motivations. Because the book was first person narrated, it would be hard for all of Eva’s inner thoughts to make it onto the screen. I had similar feelings on The Hunger Games adaptation. First person is hard to capture on film.


      • Cathy746books March 19, 2014 at 8:25 AM #

        Exactly, and that is probably why I was slightly more sympathetic towards Kevin in the book (well, you know, as sympathetic as you can be!) than in the movie.


      • Sam March 19, 2014 at 8:36 AM #

        I think his redemption at the end of the book (giving the little black box to Eva) was a lot more meaningful and sympathetic than the ending of the movie. I completely agree.


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