Tag Archives: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy

Book Review: A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold (4/5)

20 Apr

Today is the 21st anniversary of the Columbine shootings. I didn’t plan to post this on the anniversary but when I realized it would be close, I thought it fitting to use this day to remember the lives lost. I was in elementary school when Columbine happened. Growing up, we all knew about it and the Michael Moore documentary that followed. Moore has close ties to Michigan and the KMart World Headquarters he protests is located a stone’s throw from my in-law’s house. I remember reading the Cassie Bernall book She Said Yes when I was in high school. I finished public school just in time to avoid active shooter drills and I didn’t realize how pervasive they were until my husband started teaching. Columbine shook the nation and changed school campuses forever. I never reflected on how the lives of the shooters’ families changed, I was so fixated on the victims. Klebold is a good voice for the families.

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

Summary from Goodreads:

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.

For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?

These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.

Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, A Mother’s Reckoning is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time. And with fresh wounds from the recent Newtown and Charleston shootings, never has the need for understanding been more urgent.

I had really mixed emotions during this book. The overwhelming one was sadness. Dylan did a terrible thing and changed many lives forever. While the nation fumed and blamed his actions, his mother was conflicted. Was she at fault? When a dog misbehaves, we blame the owner. But what about a teenager? Can Sue be blamed for what Dylan did? Could she have stopped it? These questions were hard for her to answer and I’m not sure I came to a conclusive answer myself. She admits there were things she could have done to stop it, but Dylan hid his depression so well that most parents would not have noticed. I remembered my own high school depression and I wonder how well I hid it from my parents. Could they have been expected to know about my brain health problems? How can we be mad at Sue for not noticing Dylan’s?

Like most memoirs, I wonder how well Sue remembered the details of her story. She kept journals so I’m sure a lot of the actions and dialogue were taken from there, but I still wonder. Her parenting reminds me of my parents and I mean that as a compliment. She seemed to have high expectations and that she was trying to raise her kids without being their friend or a strict disciplinarian. Clearly, this parenting style isn’t one that spits out angry teens every time. But how much of this is true? I can’t say and no one will ever know for sure. I think she may have painted herself a little too favorably and Dylan a little too happy but I do believe her recalling of the events of his childhood. I believe that he hid his anger and depression deep inside him.

I would have liked to hear more about Byron. As Dylan’s older brother, I’d be interested to hear how he felt about growing up in the Klebold house and how he reacted to his brother’s actions. How surprised was he and how did he deal with being so closely tied to such a major tragedy? I also wonder how his last name affected him through the rest of his life and if he had a similar fear to Sue.

Unfortunately, I did relate to some of the characters in this story. Since high school, I’ve struggled with what I suspect is mild Depression, though I’ve never been diagnosed. Some of the facts and statistics Sue shared about depression in adolescents and adults hit a little close to home and shocked me. I never had any inclination to do what Dylan did, I want to make that clear. But some of his emotions were relatable to the memories I have of high school.

Sue Klebold
Image via Slate

I don’t know if I can say any part of the book was my favorite. A lot of this book was hard to read. I did find it interesting when Sue would reveal things about how she learned about Dylan, such as not seeing the Basement Tapes for years. I can’t imagine how she felt. Did she feel betrayed by the police for not showing her? Or was all her anger directed at Dylan? I can’t even begin to sympathize.

I wish Sue had left out the part where she described the shooting itself. I think that’s best left to anyone interested to research it because it seemed out of place in this book. I’m sure Sue struggled over whether to include it or not but I personally feel she made the wrong decision.

Sue narrating her own audiobook was a great choice. With an emotional topic like this, it’s great to hear the emotion from the writer instead of an actor. She had a lot to say and it never felt unprofessional or amateur. I wouldn’t recommend she go into audiobook narration, but she did a great job telling her own story.

Dylan wanted to be loved and his mother loved him deeply. She loved him as a child and she’s memorialized him with her love in death. Of course, she’s angry about how he died but she still loves him and wants to do everything she can to prevent another tragedy. If that’s not love, I’m not sure what is. It’s powerful.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think Sue wrote this book for many reasons. I think it was therapeutic for her. I also think she wanted to prove, in a way, that she wasn’t responsible for Dylan’s actions nor was she innocent. Yes, she could have done some things differently but she wasn’t negligent in her actions. She wants to educate others about what she could have done so that there’s a possibility of another tragedy being stopped. I’m not sure if she completely exonerated herself in my mind but she did a great job of educating me about what to look for in a person who might be considering self-harm.

Overall, a powerful book and one I won’t soon forget. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1980-1999 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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