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We Need To Talk About Kevin: A Novel [Paperback]

Lionel Shriver
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
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June 22 2006
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We Need To Talk About Kevin: A Novel + I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother + Summer of My Amazing Luck
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From Publishers Weekly

A number of fictional attempts have been made to portray what might lead a teenager to kill a number of schoolmates or teachers, Columbine style, but Shriver's is the most triumphantly accomplished by far. A gifted journalist as well as the author of seven novels, she brings to her story a keen understanding of the intricacies of marital and parental relationships as well as a narrative pace that is both compelling and thoughtful. Eva Khatchadourian is a smart, skeptical New Yorker whose impulsive marriage to Franklin, a much more conventional person, bears fruit, to her surprise and confessed disquiet, in baby Kevin. From the start Eva is ambivalent about him, never sure if she really wanted a child, and he is balefully hostile toward her; only good-old-boy Franklin, hoping for the best, manages to overlook his son's faults as he grows older, a largely silent, cynical, often malevolent child. The later birth of a sister who is his opposite in every way, deeply affectionate and fragile, does nothing to help, and Eva always suspects his role in an accident that befalls little Celia. The narrative, which leads with quickening and horrifying inevitability to the moment when Kevin massacres seven of his schoolmates and a teacher at his upstate New York high school, is told as a series of letters from Eva to an apparently estranged Franklin, after Kevin has been put in a prison for juvenile offenders. This seems a gimmicky way to tell the story, but is in fact surprisingly effective in its picture of an affectionate couple who are poles apart, and enables Shriver to pull off a huge and crushing shock far into her tale. It's a harrowing, psychologically astute, sometimes even darkly humorous novel, with a clear-eyed, hard-won ending and a tough-minded sense of the difficult, often painful human enterprise.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In a series of brutally introspective missives to her husband, Franklin, from whom she is separated, Eva tries to come to grips with the fact that their 17-year-old son, Kevin, has killed seven students and two adults with his crossbow. Guiltily she recalls how, as a successful writer, she was terrified of having a child. Was it for revenge, then, that from the moment of his birth Kevin was the archetypal difficult child, screaming for hours, refusing to nurse, driving away countless nannies, and intuitively learning to "divide and conquer" his parents? When their daughter, loving and patient Celia, is born, Eva feels vindicated; but as the gap between her view of Kevin as a "Machiavellian miscreant" and Franklin's efforts to explain away their son's aberrant behavior grows wider, they find themselves facing divorce. In crisply crafted sentences that cut to the bone of her feelings about motherhood, career, family, and what it is about American culture that produces child killers, Shriver yanks the reader back and forth between blame and empathy, retribution and forgiveness. Never letting up on the tension, Shriver ensures that, like Eva, the reader grapples with unhealed wounds. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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I'm unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A horror story for our age June 12 2005
Kevin Katchadourian is a parent's worst nightmare: a sullen child who abuses, manipulates, and controls everyone around him. Eva, his mother, seems to know something is terribly wrong with her son from the moment she gives birth, as he grasps for his father and turns a baleful eye towards his mother. As he gets older, Eva's maternal instincts about her dark child places him at the center of incident after incident: playgoups that are dismantled; misterious bike accidents; sexual precocity. As Kevin grows up and Eva bears a beautiful young daughter, the family dynamic becomes even more explosive as she and her husband Franklin take sides against Kevin and his malevolence.
The inorexible march towards the conclusion - Kevin's violent and methodical attack on his classmates - made my stomach tie itself up in knots. Eva is helpless as he controls the Katchadourians and eventually destroys everyone around him.
Taking the form of letters written to her husband, Franklin, Eva reflects on her marriage, her children, the nature of violence and hypocrisy in America, and what it feels like to be the mother of a disturbed and dangerous child. This is not a light book, but it is a necessary one. Her inability to mother Kevin is perhaps an insightful look at those women who bore the real-life School Killers, and Lionel Shriver should be congratulated on her brave and difficult work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and mesmerizing June 25 2007
By Samantha TOP 500 REVIEWER
While all of Shriver's books grab me by the second page, despite some slight pretentions, this book is outstanding in its honesty and depth of character development. These fictional people are etched indelibly in my mind. Her unique style of making you hate her characters but wanting the best outcome for them is genius. This is not a fun read, by any measures, but one that won't disappoint. It is a vastly disturbing, devouring but strangely satisfying masterpiece fit for those greedy for darkly thematic literature.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There's Something Wrong With That Kid May 24 2012
By Jonathan Stover TOP 1000 REVIEWER
The novel's back-cover blurb makes no secret of the horror shown only at its climax -- a 1999 New York school shooting perpetrated by 15-year-old Kevin, the son of successful tourbook writer Eva Khatchadourian and advertising location scout Franklin Plaskett. There's nothing to spoiler in the bare facts. Nearly two years later, Eva struggles to make sense of her intensely problematic relationship with her now-imprisoned son in a series of letters to her "estranged husband" (so the blurb also tells us).

If it matters to the reader, Lionel Shriver is a woman -- she changed her first name in her late teens, as she hated her given name. The school shooting in the novel takes place 11 days before Columbine, and this does get repeatedly mentioned in the novel, as do a number of other real-life school shootings from the 1990's.

Anyway, it's the details of this detail-oriented novel that shouldn't be spoiled: Eva's lacerating and self-lacerating evaluations of herself and others drive the book. Is she a reliable narrator? Was Kevin born bad, made bad, or resulted from a combination of the two? Well, that's the novel, isn't it?

I note that some reviewers have referred to this novel as a "thriller," though there's nothing thrilling about it: I found it difficult to put down, but not because I was having a wild romp. You're stuck inside Eva's head for the entire novel, and that's going to be trying for a lot of readers. She isn't instantly sympathetic. I'm not entirely sure that she's even finally sympathetic, a judgement I'd extend to the two other main characters of the novel, her husband Franklin Plaskett and the eponymous Kevin.

Plaskett needs desperately to believe in the possibility of the American Dream's happy nuclear family.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a happy book Sept. 24 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is well worth reading, but it does not take you to a happy place. The subject is disturbing and the struggle between mother and son very real. The outcome surprised me and left a lasting image. This is not a book you will easily forget.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read in Spite of Itself April 21 2004
I have to address this book on two levels.
The first concerns the writing and the story. Shriver builds the interest by teasing us with offhand facts that later come to bear. Some of the story didn't make much sense until a few or a lot of pages later. Although you think you know the story (since it is written both as a current narrative and as a recap of past events through Eva's letters to her husband), it doesn't play out at you think it will.
Other reviewers say that it is slow-going at the beginning, but this is merely because Shriver is laying the groundwork.
This book is un-put-down-able because of the numerous Oh-my-God moments that happen in the story.
What cost this book its fifth star is that I simply could not believe that Eva and Franklin could let things escalate as they have. Am I the only one who thinks that Eva and Franklin forgot early on that they were the parents and that Kevin was the child? If I had pulled even a quarter of the stuff Kevin does, I would have felt consequences in no uncertain terms, and swiftly. Maybe things have changed since I was a kid, and when I was a parent too fifteen or so years ago. Do they still have military school these days for six-year-olds?
Also, Eva is the kind of person that just invites being taken down a peg or two. From the first page I was dreading having to read a whole bookful of her pretentious dialogue. Shriver's masterful turn at constructing the narrative makes it bearable (see, it's rubbing off on me!).
Once you apply a little extra suspension-of-belief, you will be in for a very gratifying and disturbing read.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Item arrived in a timely manor and is exactly as I expected it.
Published 16 days ago by Amber Eisler
3.0 out of 5 stars Your worst nightmare
I found the storyline riveting, but some of the writing over emphasising the authors knowledge of big words, when simple ones would have sufficed. It is horrific, but believable. Read more
Published 1 month ago by PJ
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book
This book,was recommended to me and I am very glad I read it. Very disturbing, but interesting and well written. Definitely gives you things to think about.
Published 5 months ago by Eileen Land
3.0 out of 5 stars Good build up - disappointing ending.
**Spoiler alert**

Ultimately, I was disappointed in this movie, because of the lack of resolution. Read more
Published 6 months ago by M Sockel
5.0 out of 5 stars This book stays with you
I purchased this book based on a side bubble in a magazine that said it was a story about the ultimate bad seed. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Cherry Barrel
5.0 out of 5 stars OMG!
I could not put this book down. It is terrifying, sad, but beautifully written. This is one of those books that has stayed with me. Read more
Published 16 months ago by arisonsensei
5.0 out of 5 stars Works well with an android app
I dislike propriety operating systems and lover android. I downloaded the kindle app free (buy android and get your apps free) and now can read Kindle stuff.
Published 17 months ago by ajeffrey
5.0 out of 5 stars We Need to Talk about Kevin
We Need to Talk about Kevin: one of my favourite books. A totally unique premise and really good writing. I've read it twice before and this was for a gift.
Published 18 months ago by Sue De Giacomi
5.0 out of 5 stars We Need to Talk About Kevin
Riveting and heartwrenching novel about motherhood gone awry. Incredible read, couldn't put it down. Read this before you see the movie, the book was (as always) much more amazing.
Published 20 months ago by Toni
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing, eerily honest reflection of a mother-son relationship
The author leads us through an analysis of her sons childhood, in an interesting and insightful format, as she speaks to her absent husband of multiple signs she saw in her son of... Read more
Published 21 months ago by P. Jarvis
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