(Columbine Memorial: photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo for credits)
Seventeen years ago on April 20, 1999, we found ourselves glued to the television. Watching in shock and horror as the terrible events unfolded before our eyes at Columbine High School. I am sure many of you can still recall seeing hundreds of teenagers fleeing in terror from their school with their hands over their hands, trying to escape the gunfire coming from two of their own. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold unleashed a reign of terror in their high school as they gunned downed thirteen innocent victims before turning the guns on themselves. For most of us, Columbine changed everything, and seventeen years later we are still reeling from the horror of that day, and from the many school shootings that have followed. With each and every incident, we find ourselves asking: Why? What drives others to turn violently and kill? Is it nature or nurture? How can we stop this senseless violence? As we still struggle for the answers, one lady has stepped forward, hoping that we heed her voice. Sue Klebold is the mother of one of the shooters, Dylan Klebold. In her new book, she recounts the shock, horror and grief she experienced as she realized the son she loved and raised was harboring dark secrets. Sue has a message for all of us, and I truly hope that you don't pass this review by, thinking this book isn't for you. I implore you to read this book.
On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.
For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?
These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.
Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, A Mother’s Reckoning is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time. And with fresh wounds from the recent Newtown and Charleston shootings, never has the need for understanding been more urgent.
Author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable foundations focusing on mental health issues.
Hardback, 336 pages
Published February 15th 2016 by Crown
Five stars: An unforgettable book that every parent should read. This book will stay with you long after you finish.
April 20, 1999 dawned like any other day. Sue Klebold was just stirring in the early morning hours when she heard her seventeen year old son clomping quickly down the stairs in a rush. She called out his name, and in response he replied harshly with, "Bye!" before leaving for school. Hours later, Sue receives a panicked call from her husband, informing her that there has been a shooting at Columbine High School, and that there is a chance their son might be involved. This is the moment where Sue's life changed irrevocably. They would soon learn that their sweet, intelligent, shy and awkward son, Dylan, was one of the killers. As the town and the country grieved, everyone wanted to know why? What drove two seemingly average teenage boys to commit murder? All eyes focused on the parents. How could Sue possibly explain that she had no idea her son was so depressed to the point where he was capable of murder and suicide? Since that fateful day, Sue has spent the last seventeen years trying to learn what went wrong, and how she could have possibly missed the signs. She has been through hell and back, and now, she has a message for all of us. Hoping that we will heed her advice and help to prevent further acts of violence. This is a book you need to read.
What I Liked:
- I know many of you will likely pass this review by, thinking that this isn't a book that you want to read. All I can tell you is to stop and pay attention. A Mother's Reckoning is a book that I am so glad that I read. Yes, it is a devastating tale of heartbreak, murder, suicide and heart wrenching pain and loss, but it is also a book that discusses the importance of suicide prevention and watching for signs and markers that could save lives. Ms. Klebold has endured agonizing pain and heartbreak, and now she shows tremendous courage as she finally comes forward to share her story. Since that fateful day in 1999, Sue has dedicated her life to finding the answers to what drove her son to kill. She is currently an activist for metal health and suicide prevention, and all the proceeds from the sales of her book are being donated to suicide prevention and mental health.
- I came away from this read with the utmost respect for Sue Kleblod. After the killings, the public eye turned to the parents of the murderers, blaming them for the massacre. The Klebolds were stunned and shocked that their son was the shooter. Yes, there had been some signs that he was troubled during the last year, but nothing to indicate he could be capable of such shocking violence. The first part of the book recounts the horror, shock and the pain the Klebolds endured during that fateful day, and the aftermath. It is painful and heartbreaking. The second half of the book deals with the warning signs that they missed. Sue discusses mental health and suicide, in hopes of educating the public to help stop future suicides and shootings. Sue's narrative is open and honest. I am sure it took great courage for her to come forward after all this time, even knowing that she still would likely meet with hostility. She is a brave woman.
- Sue is open and honest regarding Dylan and her actions. She and her husband, Tom, were loving, attentive parents, and they thought they knew their son. Yet, they soon would find out that their son was harboring dark, painful secrets. He contemplated suicide for two years, unbeknownst to his parents. He was also heavily drinking, smoking and planning a horrific murderous rampage with his friend, Eric Harris. After years of searching, Sue still doesn't have an answer as to why Dylan acted the way he did. It isn't a case of bad parenting, abuse or neglect. The bottom line is that Dylan was suffering from some type of mental illness or a brain health issue as Sue calls it, that caused him to function improperly to the point where he was influenced by his friend, Eric to commit murder and suicide. The human mind is a complex thing, and we will likely never know what caused this rampage as humans are capable of great goodness, and great evil as well. This is a hard look at the truth and the facts.
- The most important aspect of this book is the message that Sue hopes to impart. She is desperately trying to raise public awareness and change the perception that we have regarding mental illness. Many people battle forms of mental illness, and we need to stop thinking of mental health issues as a weakness or a topic that we don't want to discuss. People have the misconception that suicide is caused by weak minded people, which isn't the case. We need to shed the shame and idea that mental illness is for those who are feeble and can't cope. It is a disease like any other disease that afflicts the body. We need to work toward solving the mental health illness crisis we have in this country, and if we don't, we will continue to see suicides and violence. So if you have teenagers or know someone who is battling with a mental health issue, take time and talk to them. You might make a difference.
- I admire the fact that Sue is donating all the profits of this book to help those in crisis. For years, she has tried to make amends for what her son did, and many still haven't forgiven her. She would do anything to take back what her son did, and if it had been in her power to stop him, she would have, but she didn't know. She personally wrote letters to every person that was injured and to the families of all the victims, knowing that her words wouldn't make things better, but she at least tried. She has endured hatred and criticism and shouldered the blame. Nothing she could ever do or say will bring back those who perished, but if any good can come from this tragedy it is that we will all take note and listen to her message, and hopefully if we work together, we can raise awareness and prevent further tragedy.
And The Not So Much:
- The first half of the book is riveting as Sue recounts the terror, the pain and the horror that they endured during the shooting and the aftermath. She is open and honest about her feelings, and very respectful of the victims. The second half isn't as organized and concise as the first half. It wanders a bit, and it jumps around, and at times it wasn't as easy to follow. I wished that she had delved a bit further into her own battle with mental health, she gives some cursory details, but I would have liked more.
- Sue provides some brief details about the Columbine massacre. She was hesitant to do that as she didn't want to encourage anyone. I was left with a few big questions regarding Eric Harris, his family and all that. She does admit that Eric was the driving factor, but she never puts the full blame on his shoulders. I realize that she didn't want to point fingers, but I was left with some major questions regarding Eric. Even though I felt that Sue was as honest as she could be regarding Dylan,she left out some of his negative behavior, which I get because as a mother it must be incredibly painful to have to reveal such horrible details about the boy she loved so much.
- I was also left wondering about the girl, Robin, who helped the boys purchase the guns. Why did she do it? What happened to her? How much did she know? Again, I think Sue left out this information because she didn't want to cause any issues, she instead sticks to her family and her son, which I respect.
- I had a lot of questions regarding the whole event, which Sue just doesn't provide, thus I ended up reading another book, Columbine by Dave Cullen which includes the details and information that Sue leaves out.
- I was surprised to find at the end that information wasn't provided for those looking for help with suicide prevention or mental illness. I would love for there to be phone numbers and websites.
A Mother's Reckoning is a book that haunts me still. I wish I could convey in this review how much this book affected me. It is a book of terrible pain, heartbreak, loss and hopefully forgiveness. This is a book that we all should read in order to educate ourselves on mental illness and suicide. Sue Klebold is courageous and brave, and I truly hope that she finds peace after her painful journey.
The book opens with two quotes from the Klebold that tells it all, when interviewed, both Tom and Sue were asked what they would say to Dylan if they could speak to him again.
Tom responds with: "I'd ask him what the hell he was thinking and what the hell he thought he was doing!"
Sue looks to the floor and responds, " I would ask him to forgive me, for being his mother and not knowing what was going on inside his head, for not being able to help him, for not being the person that he could confide in."
I urge you to read this book.
I borrowed a copy of this book from the library. All opinions are my own, and I was not compensated for this review.
About the author:
Sue Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters at Columbine High School in 1999 who killed 13 people before ending their own lives, a tragedy that saddened and galvanized the nation. She has spent the last 15 years excavating every detail of her family life, and trying to understand the crucial intersection between mental health problems and violence. Instead of becoming paralyzed by her grief and remorse, she has become a passionate and effective agent working tirelessly to advance mental health awareness and intervention. ~ Penguin Random House.