Some novels are about faeries, vampires or other mythical creatures. Some novels are about fangirls, pirates or magic. And then there are books with extremely heavy subjects you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in a Young Adult novel. Like a mass shooting in a high school. Yet, this is what This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp is about. Don’t expect a psychological, impactful novel though. This is mostly a pageturner, but with a very different setting than the usual YA/thriller.
The story takes place in just 54 minutes. At the start of each chapter, the times in which it is set, is stated. Most chapters take a couple of minutes. There is nothing that happens before these 54 minutes (except for some flashbacks and backstories) and besides an epilogue, nothing happens after those 54 minutes. There are adventages to this, as it makes the story super compact and therefore even more thrilling. You get to live with the four POV characters during their ordeals. It’s very clever writing by Marieke Nijkamp.
Yet, this set time period also gives almost no room for character development. Though all four main characters have a distinct tone of voice, we hardly know anything about them except what is mentioned in flashbacks. And those flashbacks/memories are short, too short. A handicapped brother, a deployed sister, a ruined relationship and a rape are mentioned, but not nearly enough to leave an impression. With more on these backstories, the characters would have been better developed and would make more of an impact on the reader. Now, I couldn’t care less about Claire, for instance. Though I get why it’s written this way, as it makes the novel more of a pageturner.
All four main characters have a relationship of some kind with the shooter. That makes the impact of him being the shooter more of a big deal. But, you only get to know him through the eyes of these four. It would have been such a bold move by Marieke Nijkamp to make the shooter a fifth POV character. But I understand that would be an extremely difficult thing to write about. Maybe that’s not something for a Young Adult, but more for a complex, literary novel. So let’s not discuss those possibilities, as it would have made for another book entirely. Though I still would have loved more insight into this shooter and his motivations.
Some of the actions of the characters didn’t make sense to me. I don’t think high school students would be brave enough to do certain things, like closing the eyes of a dead classmate. I felt like there could have been more panic, more clusterfucks and more yelling/crying in and around the aula. Now, most teens were too calm in my eyes. At the end of each chapter, some tweets and text messages can be read, but they didn’t add anything to the story and could have been left out entirely.
Despite all it’s obvious flaws, this is a very well written debut novel. Though it doesn’t give you too much information on the characters, they are likeable enough and at least I cared for three out of four. It’s a very impactful book that’s written without delving too deep into complicated subject matter like gun control. Don’t expect a lot of depth to the difficult topics, but expect a thrilling story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s the topic that will attract you to this novel, nothing else. As a pageturner, it did what it should do, as I turned those pages within no time.