That's Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger

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That's Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger

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Category: Teens
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: An interesting exploration of the aftermath of a school shooting and how memories and reporting are distorted to suit appealing narratives.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: August 2018
Publisher: Hodder
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1444933628

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It's been three years since the Virgil County High School Massacre. Three years since my best friend, Sarah, was killed in a bathroom during the mass shooting. Everyone knows Sarah's story - but it's not true.

Leanne has been thinking a lot during those three years. And she wants to put the story straight. Sarah did not die professing her Christian faith towards the boy who shot her. Yet that is the story the newspapers printed. And that is the story Sarah's grieving parents cling to. But it's not true and the lie has ruined someone else's life. Leanne is determined that the real story should see the light of day and, to that end, she persuades her friends and fellow survivors to write their own accounts.

How does Ashley remember it? Or Denny? Or Miles? Or Eden? Or Kellie? And what would Sarah's parents - and the rest of Virgil County for that matter - make of their accounts?

I loved the premise of That's Not What Happened. We know that press coverage of tragedies such as school shootings is not neutral. Coverage takes a slant to enable political points to be made; people's privacy is disrespected and their pasts and secrets plastered all over the pages for prurient interest. But Keplinger goes further than that. She talks about how rumours spread and how they don't always have the facts straight, how genuine memories can be wrong, about our basic need for the world to know how we ourselves saw things: our truths. But does my truth trump yours or anybody else's? And is an untrue story always something that must be exposed? Or could it be that the comfort it provides is worth it?

All these things are important and things are never black and white. I think Keplinger shows this very well in That's Not What Happened. All the main characters have a different story to tell and each story is a personal truth, not an objective one. However, I didn't enjoy the book as much as I thought I would. Leanne is a curiously unsympathetic character - some of this is inevitable because one of the themes of the book is that Lee's determination to have "the truth" come out leads her to be quite selfish and inconsiderate of the needs of others. But it wasn't that. She just wasn't drawn as someone I could warm to, at all. And the other characters - perhaps with the exception of Miles, a fellow survivor and romantic interest for Lee - felt like cyphers too.

That said, and even though the characters didn't draw me in, That's Not What Happened gives readers a lot to think about. Gossip, rumour, sensationalist reporting - these aren't healthy things. And truth isn't as simple a thing as we might think. We should all take notice of the themes of this story.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult also explores a school shooting in a very interesting way and older readers may find it an impactful story. We think you'll also find Underwater by Marisa Reichardt thought-provoking.

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Buy That's Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy That's Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger at


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