ARC Review: That's Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger

Title: That's Not What Happened
Author: Kody Keplinger
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Hardcover, 336 Pages
Publication Date: August 28th, 2018

Summary: 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 . . .

[TW: Shootings, murder, death, loss.]

I got an ARC of this book when I met Kody Keplinger at BookExpo, and I'm glad I did, because I was immediately intrigued by it. School shootings are something that have (unfortunately) become almost commonplace in today's society, and it's something that scares me down into my core, but that's part of the reason I wanted to pick up this book. I wanted to go into a story that tackles one of the hardest parts of the aftermath of a shooting -- how survivors move on -- and I'm glad that I had the chance to do that with this book.

This book is told in an interesting format, which helped move the story along as well. Lee is addressing the reader directly in her opening statement, saying that a lot of rumors have been swirling around about the shooting at her high school, and she, along with the other survivors, were there to set the record straight. So the story has her point of view explaining what she knows, as well as letters from the other survivors, and also little chapters that are detailing the lives of those lost in the shooting from the perspectives of the survivors and their friends, so their memory would have a way of living on other than their faces just being plastered on the evening news. Because of all of these mediums, the chapters were short, gripping, and very easy to follow, which helped make reading it super smooth. 

One of the things I liked about this book was the way it wasn't focused directly on the shooting itself in the moment, but rather, the story begins on the third anniversary of the shooting, when Lee, who was a high school freshman on that day, is a senior in high school. The book started off a bit slow at first, which made it hard, but slowly I got used to Lee's method of telling the story, and I found myself unable to put the book down and always wanting to pick it up in my free time to read more. We follow Lee as she's going through her spring semester of her senior year of high school with some of her other friends who also survived the shooting, while also mourning the loss of her best friend Sarah, who was shot in the bathroom stall with Lee that day.

But Lee has a secret that she's been hiding. Sarah didn't die the way people think she did, but if Lee starts telling people that now, she has the potential to destroy everything. 

It was interesting to see the way that all of the survivors bonded (and also didn't bond) with each other. They formed their own little network and their own little friendship that helped them all to move on and move past the most horrible moment in their lives while also still looking back on it as necessary. Their bond was really important for everyone's survival, and that was something I really enjoyed getting to explore as a reader.

Another thing that this book focuses on is the dangers of a mob mentality, as well as how quickly rumors can be spread and distorted and passed along untruthfully. Sarah's church has painted her to be a martyr that died defending her faith, even though Lee knows that isn't what happened. But when she starts to speak up about it, she gets harassed and threatened. And she isn't the first one who had to experience something like this. The congregation has it out for her, because they think she's going after Sarah's memory -- even though Lee was the only one there with her that day. Lee and Kellie Gaynor, who knows more than everyone. (You'll have to read the book to find out what happens.)

Overall, That's Not What Happened was an emotional book that gripped me and showed me what it was like for survivors of a horrible tragedy and how they find the courage to keep moving forward while also continually recognizing their past. I know this book focuses on a really heavy (and really heavy) subject, but that's part of the reason I'm glad I read it. As someone who is continuously petrified of death and always worried about the terrible things that can happen to me at any given time, this book brought my fears to life while also addressing how to survive with it and keep moving forward, and that was an important angle that I hadn't known I really needed until I started reading.

While I've enjoyed some of Kody's other books in the past, I'm really impressed with the way she tackled such a serious topic in this one. While so many of her books are sarcastic and funny, this book was shocking and real, in a way that made it a refreshing an important read. If this is the sort of topic you're interested in looking into further, I recommend picking up this book.

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