Monday, August 03, 2009

Book Review: COLUMBINE by Dave Cullen

When an author [or someone on his staff] stops by my blog and leaves a comment, I'm happy to oblige with a review of the book!

I remember Columbine happening, remember shrugging and thinking "oh well" or something equally profound. I remember my cousin's cousin lived near there. That's about all the thought I gave it at the time. Then, several years later, I became a parent. The lense thru which I viewed Columbine changed dramatically. No, not because I was gazing lovingly at my treasured, prayed for infant--I didn't give birth to P and B. My kids came to me at 7 and 8 speaking no English. I became aware of Columbine when P uttered the words "I'll kill you" on the playground in an urban public school. It took all my powers of persuasion to convince the school that he really didn't understand what he was saying. "Zero Tolerance" was my "introduction" to post-Columbine school life. I wrote a little about this post-Columbine parenting here.

Dave Cullen has done an excellent job of following all the purposely hidden rabbit trails the Jefferson County Colorado authorities wanted to hide. He followed them all to reveal a legacy of law enforcement shame. Had the JeffCo folks taken threats against a boy's life seriously; had JeffCo folks paid attention to the printouts from a kid's blog....well, had they done their job with honesty and integrity maybe, just maybe the result would have been different.

Cullen provides a portrait of the two killers that is as clear and unflinching as HD-TV on huge screen. Eric, the genius, and Dylan the intelligent loser-in-the-making become as well known to the reader as the kids who hang out at the rec center with my own son. At the time of the attack, all blame was heaped on the parents. As a parent of a troubled kid, I know such kids ARE experts at hiding stuff. Some, like Dylan, are quick to give it away--almost as though they want, even need, to get caught. I've lived thru some of this. The boys relentlessly documented much of what they wanted to accomplish with the attack. Parents did fail in one way: they failed to violate their son's privacy and keep up the search of their rooms, notebooks, and the credit cards statements. Like many parents, I reserve the right to inspect any part of my kid's life. I take away cell phones, time with friends, computers, whatever, to make my point. Do I get it right? Sometimes yes, sometimes, no just like any parent. The one glaring omission in this book, for which Cullen has no blame, is the missing interview with the two sets of parents--it may never happen. We'll never know what, if anything at all, they may have done [beyond respecting too closely the privacy of their sons] that may have contributed to the boys emotional makeup and tragic actions. Columbine, by Dave Cullen.

This book is why I'm a non-fiction junkie. Although crime and murder are generally not topics that interest me in any way [except for avoiding them], this book got me because it was about kids who were a little out of synch, a little "out there." They take away my comfort zone. They make me look with fear at my son and his friends when they are bored.

Unlike Columbine, I found it's fictional counterpart, We Need to Talk About Kevin, to be compelling up to a point. Fictional Kevin lives with a mom who "gets it"--who sees how screwed up her kid is. His head-in-the-clouds Dad doesn't--in fact he suspects his wife of being unmaternal.

Here's where this book lost me--Kevin exhibited such extreme "way out there" behavior and emotional disconnection from peers and family BEFORE first grade and yet this white, upper-class, well educated couple did not seek help for him till way, way too late. That just would not happen--no school would have kept him unless he was getting treatment of some sort. The Mother gained my full sympathy--she voices thoughts that mother's try to deny ever even thinking about their children. The Dad was a divorce waiting to happen. To top off the insanity of their son and not seeking help for him, this make believe couple adds another child to the mix with toxic and tragic results. Perfect read for Oprah's Book Club. For the rest of us, stick to the facts--Columbine is the way better book.


Anonymous said...

On Nov. 21, 2008, the Harris and Klebold parents were sent the same letter requesting cooperation. "Your stories have yet to be fully told, and I view your help as an issue of historical significance," it said. "In 10 years, there have been no major, mainstream books on Columbine. This will be the first, and it may be the only one." The letter came not from Mr. Cullen but from Jeff Kass, whose Columbine: A True Crime Story, published by the small Ghost Road Press, preceded Columbine by a couple of weeks.

"Mr. Kass, whose tough account is made even sadder by the demise of The Rocky Mountain News in which his Columbine coverage appeared, has also delivered an intensive Columbine overview. Some of the issues he raises and information he digs up go unnoticed by Mr. Cullen." --Janet Maslin, New York Times

"A decade after the most dramatic school massacre in American history, Jeff Kass applies his considerable reporting talents to exploring the mystery of how two teens could have planned and carried out such gruesome acts without their own family and best friends knowing about it. Actually, there were important clues, but they were missed or downgraded both by those who knew the boys best and by public officials who came in contact with them. An engrossing and cautionary tale for everyone who cares about how to prevent kids from going bad." -----Ted Gest, President, Criminal Justice Journalists

Jeanne said...

Lisa, are you going to comment on your comment? I'd be interested to read what you have to say.

Also, should I read Kevin? Columbine is already on my list.

Also also, have I told you recently that I think you're a great mum?

Also also also, what are 'ortions'? (My word capture for this comment) Are they the layer upon layer of oughts that pile up - I ought to do this etc...sorry - getting silly.

Hopewell said...

Since I have only read Cullen's book, I have no comment on the "rival" book. Such is the publishing world today--frequently two or more books race to the press on a single topic.My library had Columbine on cd and I thought my son would be interested, so I checked it out. That's that.

Anonymous--you should have signed your comments, they would have had greater impact.

Hopewell said...

My second comment"

Would'a, should'a and could'a.....we all have them as friends.