“This is Where It Ends” by Marieke Nijkamp (4 of 5 stars)

At 10 am, the principal of the high school in Opportunity, Alabama, finishes the speech she gives at the beginning of every semester, an occurrence that is so predictable and routine that the higher-grade students can recite the speech by heart. At the conclusion of this particular assembly, however, the students get up to leave only to find the doors are locked. All the doors save one, the one that opens to let in a boy with a gun and a score to settle. This Is Where It Ends, by Marieke Nijkamp, follows the events of the next 54 minutes, minutes that will irrevocably change the lives of everyone in town of Opportunity.

This story is told through the viewpoint of four different students. First we have Claire, a member of the track team that was excused from the assembly because of team practice and was on the track when the first shots were fired. Tomás also finds himself outside the auditorium, having committed a prank before the assembly and consequentially is located in the principals office, not the assembly. Our other two protagonists are not so lucky. Sylv, Tomás’ sister, and Autumn, Sylv’s girlfriend and the shooter’s sister, are stuck in the auditorium. Each of these characters has a personal relationship with the shooter and a reason for him to have a grudge.

All-in-all, I really enjoyed this book. I didn’t want to put it down, and was very begrudging of the things that kept me from being able to sit and read. I couldn’t help pondering what I would have done if I found myself in the place of the characters. Would I have acted as bravely? (Most likely not). Despite the fact that the novel ended well, I found myself wanting more even as the book concluded.

Despite my overall enjoyment of the book, I did have a few problems with it, problems that kept me from giving it a five-star rating. First is the fact that there is track practice during the assembly. Yes, Claire ends up explaining that the principal is indulgent of the track coach because the team does well, but it seems like a forced reason to have her out of the auditorium. The same goes for Tomas’ reason to not be there. He and a friend pulled a prank in order to be sent to the principal’s office, to sneak into the records. I find it hard to believe, however, that they would have been left alone in the office while everyone else in the entire school (including, apparently, the office staff) attends the assembly. Additionally, Tomas goes to investigate the auditorium and mentions that the auditorium is virtually soundproof, yet the gunshots can be heard not only while in the school office, but also all the way out on the track (outside the school). This doesn’t seem plausible from a soundproof room.

Despite these issues, I still really enjoyed this book. The characters are ones that you care about, and even the shooter has an interesting backstory that explains (but not excuses) his actions. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes young adult dramas.

ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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