Disturbed by the school shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, Walter Dean Myers decided to research the events of the incident and create a fictionalized story that would carry a powerful message about bullying. Copying the format used by investigators and psychologists to assess the threat of school violence, Myers wrote Shooter as a fictionalized threat analysis report with transcripts of police reports, interviews, medical records, and diary excerpts. Myers format and writing is so authentic that readers will have a hard time believing that the incidents in the book didn't actually occur.
Shooter: The Story
On the morning of April 22, 17 year old Leonard Gray began shooting at students from an upstairs window at Madison High School. One student was killed. Nine injured. The gunman wrote “Stop the Violence” in blood on the wall and then proceeded to take his own life. The shooting incident led to a full scale analysis on the potential threats of school violence. Two psychologists, the school superintendent, police officers, an FBI agent, and a medical examiner interviewed and gave reports to help determine what caused Leonard Gray to shoot down his peers.
High school students Cameron Porter and Carla Evans knew Leonard Gray and through their interviews reveal details of Leonard’s personal and school life. We learn that Leonard had a fascination with guns, was overdosing on prescription drugs, and spoke frequently of an enemies list. The analysis team uncovers that all three students endured constant bullying and came from dysfunctional homes. All three students were “on the outs’ and kept silent about their own abuse. In the end, Leonard Gray wanted to “break a whole in the wall of silence” in the most violent way he knew how.
The Author: Walter Dean Myers
Walter Dean Myers knows how to connect with teens, especially teens who are struggling mentally and emotionally. Why? He remembers growing up in the inner city neighborhood of Harlem and getting into trouble. He remembers being teased because of a severe speech impediment. Myers dropped out of school and joined the military at 17, but he knew he could do more with his life. He knew he had a gift for reading and writing and these talents helped him to resist going down a more dangerous and unfulfilling path. (Source: Notable Biographies )
Myers stays current with teen struggles and he knows the language of the street. In Shooter his teen characters use street slang that baffles the professionals who are questioning them. Such terms include “bangers”, “going dark”, “on the outs”, and “sniped”. Myers knows this language because he continues to work in outreach programs with inner city kids from low socioeconomic communities. Another way Myers stays in step with teens is to listen to what they say about his books. Myers often will hire teens to read his manuscripts and give him feedback. In a Scholastic interview Myers said, “Sometimes I hire teenagers to read the books. They tell me if they like it, or if they found it boring or interesting. They have very good comments to make. If I go to a school, I'll find teenagers. Sometimes kids write to me and ask me if they can read.” (Source: Scholastic Interview).
For more about the author, see Walter Dean Myers: His Life, Books and Views on Censorship. For other recommended fiction by Myers, see my reviews of Monster and Fallen Angels.
Shooter: A Powerful Message About Bullying
Bullying has changed over the last fifty years. According to Myers, when he was growing up bullying was something physical. Today, bullying goes beyond physical threats and includes harassment, teasing, and even cyberbullying. The theme of bullying is central to this story. When asked about the message of Shooter Myers responded, “I want to send the message that the people who are being bullied are not unique. This is a very common problem that happens in every school. Kids need to recognize and understand that and look for help. I want to say that the people who are doing the shootings and committing the crimes are doing it as a reaction of things that are happening to them.” (Source: Scholastic Interview)
Shooter: My Recommendation
While reading Shooter I felt that I was reading a genuine analysis of a shooting incident. The layout of the novel reads as a collection of various reports from a team of professionals who are trying to determine the causes leading to school violence. Clearly, Myers did research and invested time into studying the types of questions different professionals would ask the teens, and how the teens would respond. One of my favorite quotes in Shooter occurs when a psychologist asks Cameron if he admired Leonard for what he’d done. Cameron hesitates and then says, “At first, right after the incident, I didn’t. And I don’t think I admire him now. But the more I think about him, the more I talk about him, the more I understand him. And when you understand somebody that changes your relationship with them.” Cameron understood Leonard’s actions. He didn’t agree with them, but because of his own experience with bullying Leonard’s actions made sense. What a frightening thought! If everyone who was bullied reacted on their instincts to get revenge, the violence in schools would escalate. Myers doesn’t offer solutions to bullying in this book, but he does put forth reasons for why shooting incidents are occurring.
This is not a simple story, but a complicated and disturbing look at the tragedy that can result from bullying. I found this book a compelling, and consider it an insightful must read for teens. Due to the mature themes of this book, I would side with the publisher and recommend Shooter for ages 14-up. (Amistad Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780064472906)