While not incredibly impactful, THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENED is a quite meaningful book, relevant in many ways to the current society, and does its job of getting its point across.
Three years ago, Leanne Bauer’s best friend, Sarah McHale, was killed in the Virgil County High School mass shooting. Three years since Sarah died proclaiming her faith – only, she didn’t, and only Lee and one other survivor -Kellie – know the truth about what happened. Now, after Sarah’s parents announce they’re writing a book about their martyr daughter, Lee needs to set the record straight before the truth graduates with her. But Sarah’s story is important to a lot of people and their faith, and after running Kellie and her family out of town, they now set their sights on Lee, who is not only still struggling with the loss of her best friend, but also being the target of so much animosity in her town.
First things first, Kody Keplinger‘s That’s Not What Happened is super dark, and could be very triggering to many. It displays on-page panic attacks, graphic thought spirals, and many shooting flashbacks, so if you think you might be affected by any of those topics, please be aware before picking up this book.
Going in, I genuinely had no idea what to expect. I had never read a Kody Keplinger book before this one, and the ones she has published in the past have all been pretty fun, YA contemporaries. Plus this was also my first experience reading about a school shooting, something incredibly relevant in the United States.
In many ways, I got what I was expecting and even if I didn’t love it, I am for sure not disappointed. Critiquing a book like this is hard in many ways, because even if it’s fictional, it’s also really personal and timely and deep.
Leanne, the main character, I felt missed some dimension to her personality, though I feel bad saying that since she’s a traumatized, mass shooting survivor suffering of crippling anxiety and thought spirals. But, I did really like her, I just don’t have anything very fleshed-out to say about her, or any of the characters for that matter.
They were interesting, somewhat fascinating at times; seeing all of them cope with the circumstances and getting the chance to see all the different viewpoints was kinda touching. But that’s where it ends, basically. They were good characters, but not the type of good that stays with you once you flip the last page.
Regardless of my feelings, the diversity was a nice and surprising touch. Leanne is on the ace-spec, Denny is black and blind, and Eden is a Mexican lesbian in an interracial relationship with a Korean-American. There are also very prominent talks about faith and Christianity, and what those mean. This representation all warmed my heart a lot, and I hope it helps a reader see themselves somewhere.
I had a lot of technical problems with this novel, the main being the repetition. This is in no way a long book, but it could’ve been way shorter if some parts were scrapped. Things were mentioned sO many times, it was definitely exhausting. It could’ve been executed way better.
My other main issue is the writing/narrative, because That’s Not What Happened is a book within a book, but the book within this book is the one being written by the main character, but then the narration style changed and there was plenty of dialogue, and I just kept thinking, how does Leanne possibly memorize all of thse conversations e x a c t l y how they happened? And then a chapter set in the present ended, and the next one came and it was a flashback, but then the flashback ended, and we went back to the present, and the first line of this new chapter always repeated what had happened in the chapter before the flashback. Y’all. It was too much for me, I was so confused.
The story could’ve been wrapped up way quicker, and there were unnecessary elements that if they had been removed, would’ve made absolutely no difference to the timeline of the story. Therefore, I feel they weren’t needed.
I wouldn’t say this was a bad book. Trust me, it wasn’t. It’s the type of book that every reader gets a completely different experience out of, and mine just wasn’t very memorable. It didn’t change me in any way, but if it sounds like your thing, and you don’t think you’d be triggered by the content, I’d highly recommend it.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
It’s been three years since the Virgil County High School Massacre. Three years since my best friend, Sarah, was killed in a bathroom stall during the mass shooting. Everyone knows Sarah’s story–that she died proclaiming her faith.
But it’s not true.
I know because I was with her when she died. I didn’t say anything then, and people got hurt because of it. Now Sarah’s parents are publishing a book about her, so this might be my last chance to set the record straight . . . but I’m not the only survivor with a story to tell about what did–and didn’t–happen that day.
Except Sarah’s martyrdom is important to a lot of people, people who don’t take kindly to what I’m trying to do. And the more I learn, the less certain I am about what’s right. I don’t know what will be worse: the guilt of staying silent or the consequences of speaking up . . .