If you did not know that this novel is a work of fiction you might find yourself googling the Madison High School shooting of April 22nd. This is the genius of Walter Dean Myers who was so disturbed by the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 that he decided to research the incident and pen a factionalized story about a similar shooting that would be a harsh message about what can happen when bullying gets out of control. It also confronts the reader with the terrifying thought "what would happen if everyone who was bullied reacted this way?" Myers uses the traditional format used by both investigators, psychologists and journalists to assess the threat of school violence and includes transcripts of police reports, medical reports, psychological evaluations and interviews as well as excerpts from journals and diaries. This is what makes his writing so authentic and makes the reader believe that they are reading the detailed report of an incident that really happened.
The story is disturbingly simple; on the morning of April 22nd, seventeen year old Leonard Gray shoots at students from an upstairs window at Madison High School. One student is killed and nine are injured. The incident precipitates a full blown threat analysis and two psychologists, a medical examiner, an FBI agent and multiple police officers are interviewed to give their reports that will help to determine what caused Leonard Gray to snap and shoot his peers, and to judge how many other Leonard Grays there may be walking the halls in Madison High school.
It turns out, quite a few, because there is a culture of bullying at Madison and Leonard was being bullied. He was also abusing drugs, obsessing over firearms, and compiling lists of his enemies. Investigators learn that Leonard and his two closest friends are all bullied, all come from dysfunctional homes and all stay silent about their abuse. Leonard can stay silent no more and turns to violence to shatter this silence.
Myers never writes from the perspective of the investigators but manages to connect with teens who are finding it difficult to cope emotionally. He was one of these terms once, dropping out of school and joining the military because he was bullied mercilessly about his speech impediment. He also manages to reach teens by staying up to date on the way that they talk and what their current preoccupations are; he uses street slang learned from the outreach programs he volunteers with and the kids from urban low socioeconomic communities. He also hires teens to read his manuscripts and give him brutal and honest feedback so that he knows that he is genuinely reaching them with his message.
Myers writes about kids who are bullied and their different reactions to it. He states that when he was bullied it was almost always physical but like everything the nature of bullying has changed. Now threats and harassment and cyber bullying give bullies so many more avenues to bully. This is the central theme to the story. It is a difficult book to read in terms of its content and subject matter but it is also a book that sheds light on the underlying problem of hiding the fact that bullying is going on regularly in schools. This is Myers' mission and through the characters in his books he attempts to address it by reaching out to both those who are being bullied and those who are bullying them.