You will feel sick reading this book. It will make you frustrated, melancholy, curious. I suffered nightmares and stomach aches.
Renting it from the library gave me only 21 days to cover the extensive 509 pages, which meant I was reading this book every moment I had free. The details surrounding the incident (how victims were killed, bodies left behind by the police, a teacher left for dead) left me feeling nauseous and appalled. Reading words from the killer themselves brought them back to life. Columbine by Dave Cullen is an enlightening, yet, stomach churning examination of the events leading up to, during, and following the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999.
I knew this book would be difficult to read, I read that in other reviews before I decided to take the plunge anyways. Eighteen years have passed since the tragedy. Reviewing the incident now, as my 31-year-old self, has changed my understanding of the event from what I believed when my twelve-year-old self watched it unfold on TV. I thought I knew it well from what I remembered when it was first reported, and from watching the documentary, Bowling for Columbine. What I found is that neither of those sources were as detailed as this book.
Cullen dives into the individual lives directly affected by this tragedy: survivors, families of the deceased, those who have to deal with the long-term aftermath of two thoughtless teenagers. The personal stories of the survivors and the torn-apart families are heart-breaking.
He explains the motives to attack the school using actual words from the killers, which helped me understand them better. The impression I had going into this book was that the killers were frustrated goths who were bullied and snapped, but Cullen debunked those myths. Detailed research shows that this was a planned act, unrelated to any goths, bullies, or jocks. They were just egocentric kids. One, a depressed, love-sick awkward teenager, and the other, a psychopath obsessed with displaying his power and grandeur, needing to show that he was Godlike and could extinguish lives. Their only frustrations were that they were so self-aware that they couldn’t conform.
I came into the book with so many questions: What were they thinking? How did this turn from a thought to actual planning? How did their planning go undetected for so long? As a reader, I felt enlightened by all the information, but also very frustrated knowing the outcome and struggled with the thought that this could have been prevented.
There were numerous instances where neighbors and others tried to reach out to the boys’ parents, only to be dismissed. I felt confused that the parents didn’t appear concerned by their children’s actions: failing grades, a violent creative writing story, and both the boys’ arrests. I can’t believe that anyone would think they were just kids figuring out their role in life. These seem like clear warning signs alluding to something bad.
It was difficult for me to understand why these two teenagers could dream up something so violent and make it a reality when there appeared to be no immediate triggers to their behavior. And worse, they were not bullied, but the bullies themselves.
This book give a voice to the parents and families of the victims, but not much is revealed about the parents of the attackers. Maybe the parents knew something was wrong with their children, maybe they ignored it, maybe they had no idea. We don’t know what the parents felt because they have maintained their silence for years.
I trust that the story Cullen is telling is the result of years of extensive research, not theories, and is backed up by his continuing efforts to make sure everything is accurate. Three prefaces at the beginning of the book describe the edits to each new version released, based on new information that has either confirmed or denied stories surrounding Columbine. I appreciate the effort to present a holistic story. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more.
Overall, a tough read. Unlike most of the other books I review, there are no cute cats or amateur sleuths. Again, I cannot stress it enough: Readers beware, its graphic descriptions make it a very difficult book to read.
Cost: $0.00 from Overdrive
Drink of Choice: Chamomile tea (You’ll need it.)