Review & Discussion: We Need To Talk About Kevin (we really do)

We Need To Talk About Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin
By Lionel Shriver
(Harper Perennial, Paperback, 9780062119049, November 2011, 432pp.)

The Short of It:

If you are already a parent, this book will make you count your blessings but if you have yet to become one, beware…this book will scare the hell out of you and could quite possibly reduce your egg/sperm supply just by reading it.

The Rest of It:

Where do I begin?

First, a bit of housekeeping:

  • I will not provide any spoilers in this review, other than what is shared publicly on the cover of the book itself or any of the entries used by booksellers or publicists. However, the comments may contain spoilers so if you plan to read the book, and want to avoid the spoilers, skip the comments for now.
  • I ask, that comments with spoilers include a disclaimer across the top noting it as such. If I see a spoiler in the comments without a disclaimer and I am unable to edit it myself, I will not publish it.
  • If you want to make your comments in private but really want to talk about the book, send me an email at bookishchatter AT gmail DOT com.

If you are a reader, as most of us are, you’ve probably heard something about this book or the movie at one time or another. I tried to pitch this to my book club when we chose books for the year, and it was shot down. No surprise.  Not many people care to read about a kid with issues. However, now that I’ve read it, I really think they missed out.

The story is told through a series of letters written by Kevin’s mother, Eva to her husband, Franklin. In them, she attempts to come to terms with her son’s decision to massacre a group of fellow high school students. Throughout Kevin’s childhood, she sensed that he was “different” and in the aftermath of such a horrific event, she looks back and ponders the signs that were there all along.

This is one instance where the lead-up, is just as difficult to get through as the event itself and I say this for many reasons. For one, I had no sympathy for Eva. She comes across as a cold-hearted bitch, unfit to raise children. She provides the basics (food, water, shelter and clothing) but she is so self-possessed and driven career wise, that you sort of wonder why she wants to have a kid in the first place. Her husband on the other hand, is completely oblivious to how she really feels or if he does get an inkling of discontent from her, he quickly sweeps it under the rug.

This does not improve once the baby arrives. Kevin will not latch-on and his continued refusal of Eva’s breast convinces her that there is something wrong with him and that he is doing it on purpose. On purpose! An infant! That blew my mind. As he grows, Kevin’s continued dismissal of Eva as a mother causes a rift between the two that seems irreparable. Was Kevin’s lack of bonding a direct result of Eva’s lack of maternal instinct? Or did Eva pull away from Kevin because she sensed that he was broken in some way? Like a mother cat eating her kitten? At this point in the story, I wasn’t sure.

The letters continue through Kevin’s childhood, into adolescence and eventually into his prison years. They are utterly raw in nature and will leave you feeling deflated, completely scooped-out and…angry. How I felt at the end of the book was completely different from how I felt at the beginning. I remember sharing my dislike of Eva on Facebook, only to take some of it back when I finished the book. I feared for my pregnant friends. I feared for my “soon-to-be pregnant” friends because reading a book like this can really make you second-guess your decision to have kids. It’s THAT powerful and THAT disturbing.

But…

This is an important book to discuss. I know school administrators are often under fire for labeling kids, but let’s face it…most of the time, there are signs that something isn’t right. Did Eva ignore the signs? Yes, and no. She certainly knew there was a problem and she made her feelings known to those around her, but did she act on them? No. Did she try to lessen the potential for damage? No, she did not and in one instance, played with fire by second-guessing herself. As frustrating as Eva was, Franklin was more aggravating because he never saw any of it. He never even acknowledged that there was a problem. Does this put him in a better light? He couldn’t act on it if he wasn’t aware of it, right? I don’t know.

This book was all-consuming and took everything out of me. I was exhausted after reading it and as others have said, it leveled me. As I turned the last page, right before bed mind you, I wept. This was a work of fiction, but I wept for all of the families that have ever lost a kid to school violence and that includes the parents of the kids responsible for it! Eva had her issues but what a horrible position for a parent to be in. How can you love your child when he just committed such a horrible crime? Is it even possible?

You should read this book because it’s not entirely up to the parents to prevent situations like these. I do believe that as a society, we have to come together at some point, to first acknowledge the problem and then deal with it accordingly. So often, we hear about a particular kid falling through the cracks of the system and although things have gotten better, have they improved enough to not have to worry about it anymore? Some may say, “It’s not my problem.” That may be, but when violence like this hits close to home, we are all affected by it.

As for the technical aspects of the book, the epistolary format worked for me. I don’t normally enjoy this style of storytelling but it worked here and I found it to be very effective in conveying Eva’s feelings. If you decide to read the book, and I hope you do, just know that it will be tough to get through in spots. Some folks on Facebook read it with me and it helped to have that venue available for my thoughts but also for support. You might go along, as I did thinking it’s not all that bad, but there are parts where your brain will literally implode. Trust me.

Additionally, I participated in an “active shooter” training here at the university that discussed how to survive an active shooter situation. The program is based off of a program offered by Virginia Tech. It’s a morbid topic, but necessary and I’ve had discussions with both of my kids on what to do if something like this happens at their schools. The number #1 takeaway? Do not hide and cower. Make a decision to run, or make a decision to fight. Students have a better chance at survival if they decide to fight back as a group. Cowering will make you an easy target and with most classrooms only having one way to get in and out, that is not a feasible option. Also, know what a real gun sounds like. So many at Virginia Tech and Columbine stated that what they heard were firecrackers, not gunfire. It’s important to know that what you hear in movies, is not what you will hear in real life situation.

Initially I had questions for you to answer, but in writing the questions, I noticed that I put so much of what happened on Eva, that it didn’t seem fair. It wasn’t all Eva’s doing. There were a lot of contributing factors to what happened, but if this were a real case, what could have been done to prevent such a tragedy?

Source: Sent to me by another blogger.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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103 thoughts on “Review & Discussion: We Need To Talk About Kevin (we really do)”

    1. I tend to think a kid is born that way but Eva was a tough character to like. In fact, I don’t think I ever liked her. I did come to understand her motives a bit better by the end, but I still questioned if she was there out of obligation or love.

      1. **** Possible spoiler alerts*****

        I think it is possible for a mother not to love her child. It is also possible for such a mother to be a good mother. It is very heartless of society that it rips a mother apart for not being “Maternal”. (Real women have varying degrees of love for their progeny, giving birth does not automatically canonise a woman) Eva had trouble loving Kevin, but she did her duty by him, as best as she could. In spite of not loving Kevin, she tried to know the child and the boy, to find out what made him tick, to try and understand him. She felt powerless to influence the situation, or to change Kevin. She went to doctors, and they could not help her. She spoke to her husband, the school teachers. So I do think she did do as much as she could, given the lack of concrete evidence that anything was actually wrong.

        Of course if she had pushed too much she would have been labeled a bad mother, who only saw the worst in her child, and this fear kept her quiet as well.

        Which is more than what can be said of the father, Franklin. I tend to respect what Eva did more than how Franklin behaved. Is it love when you do not even know the person? Is it love to be so blind as to not see anything bad about the object of your love? Is it love to always live in a Fool’s Paradise? And of course, faced with a second child who is not clever enough to delude him, he is impatient, spiteful and distant from her.

        1. I totally agree. Some mothers taunt the childfree about ‘the greatest love you could ever feel’ and about the love they think their children feel for them – ‘there’s nothing like hearing “love you mummy!” – but I always respond: ‘Really? The love you have for your husband, a person you actually know after years of conversations and experiences, is less powerful than that for someone who has just been born? The love of a two-year-old who barely knows anything about you as an individual – you’re just mummy to them at that stage – is more powerful than the love your husband has for you? Is it love or is it need or instinct you are talking about?’ I didn’t think Franklin loved Kevin in the true sense of the word – he did not try to see him as an individual at all. Eva, on the other hand, really tried to see what made him the person he was. Franklin relied on abstract notions of masculinity and patriarchy that were woefully redundant in Kevin’s case. Eva did what she could, Franklin never tried to get to know his son and Kevin knew that all along.

    1. As I briefly mentioned… I read so much of it and thought, what’s the big deal? It’s not earth shattering… it’s not ripping me apart and then bam. It ripped me apart. Twice.

      1. I’m sorry, but if you haven’t read it all, that must mean you’ve missed the ending. READ IT, read it all, the most earth-shattering part and the part that makes you connect all music lyrics to this book is in the end. Do yourself that favor.

  1. I am disappointed our book club failed to REALLY discuss this book. We pretty much gave our star rating (I was the only one to rate it high!) and that was it. Or we did discuss tiny details but really did not get into the meat of it.

    To me? This is classic example why some people really need to consider the full responsibility required in becoming a parent in the first place. Eva and her husband were not a good team. SO so sad and heartbreaking. I actually know some very sad situations regarding young out of control children and the big question is WHAT CAN BE DONE?; no easy answers in any direction.

    I did have a friend read this when she was pregnant and I tried to warn her not to.

    1. At least your club read it! Mine avoids anything depressing so it didn’t really even have a chance. What can be done? It obviously depends on the situation but in this case… those two should have never had a kid! You are either maternal or not. I don’t think you can become maternal. You might accept your fate as a mother, but you don’t transform into this maternal creature. Eva was not meant to have a child and then to do what she did later in the book… I wanted to slap her. At the end, I did feel for her, but only because at that point, she was well aware of what her purpose was, I just didn’t know if she was doing it out of love or obligation and that bothered me.

      1. The book is written in Eva’s voice – not by an all-knowing narrator – and I believe that is key. As a mother who has lived through this horrendous experience, she is wracked with guilt. She is the judge and jury, as well as the accused. She emphasizes her shortcomings. She does not allow that she loves her son, because she remembers that she “did not want him” and “rejected him” when she thinks she ought to have had that storybook “epiphany of mother-love” from the first. What bothers you is what bothers her: ambivalence. I believe the five last sentences finally answer the question about whether she was motivated by love or obligation.

        Do you know that “Eva” means “Mother of life”? The archetypal Mother – all mothers. A good choice. I suspect that any mother who fails to recognize herself in Eva at some point in this book has failed to confront what is there, in each of us.

        And yes, Kevin is human, too.

        1. I was not aware of the meaning of Eva’s name. Thank you for providing that info.

          I read the book so long ago but I still, to this day, remember how I felt while reading it. It’s definitely a book that stays with you.

  2. I just finished this book last Friday morning. I had heard about it and was never quite sure if I wanted to read it or not. Glad that I did although it will stay with me in a haunting way for a long time to come. Like you, it ripped me apart (twice) as well. Still can’t completely get a hold on Eva – I didn’t like her either but did feel something for her as the book unfolded.

    1. Yes, as the story progressed I began to feel something for Eva too but I don’t think she ever lost that self-possessed nature. Not really. I think she grew to accept her fate but she was still struggling with what she felt and what she thought a mother ought to do. On the other hand, Franklin was more likable but what a complete DOLT! He totally frustrated me in his avoidance but then towards the end, I wondered if he truly just didn’t see it. The problems and where it was all going.

  3. I am glad you finally read this. There is so much to talk about with this book, and you are right, it just scares the hell out of the reader. I have kids, and they are just at this age. It’s hard to read this book, even knowing that you have good kids. Eva should have never had kids. She was not equipped to deal with Kevin at all, and neither was her husband. It was a raw and powerful story, and one that made me take notice of Shriver in a way that I have never taken notice of an author before. Intense and truly horrifying. I don’t think I have ever had a reaction to a book like I did with this one. It was all consuming and terrifying. If you want to talk more about it over email, let me know. It’s been about a year since I read it, but it still haunts me. At times, I wish I never read it, and at times, I can only admire its brilliance.

  4. I KNEW YOU’D FEEL THIS WAY!! Ha Ha “it’s not that bad!” surreee.

    I think Eva is judged too harshly and Kevin was disturbed from a very early age. She didn’t have strong maternal instincts, but she did try, taking a leave of absence from work to be with him, etc. but the boy was sick. Ugh, remembering certain scenes from the book make me ill! The masturbation scene, for instance. And the slingshot. If Celia had been Eva’s first child, mothering would have been much easier for her. Some people are blessed with easy children while others are challenged from day one. I don’t think Eva created a monster with her poor parenting skills; I think Eva tried to parent a monster as if he were a typical child, and he just wasn’t. She should have gotten him (and herself) more help.

    I read this such a long time ago I had to re-read my own review, which is here if anyone wants to take a peek: http://lisamm.wordpress.com/2007/12/04/review-we-need-to-talk-about-kevin-by-lionel-shriver/

    1. ****MINOR SPOILER****

      Eva is certainly not the blame for the way he turned out, but I do feel as if she needed to intervene sooner. She saw the signs early on. She didn’t sweep them like Franklin did but she didn’t really act on them either. I felt harshly towards her for this reason. Because she did not seek out help for either of them. And I absolutely fault her for having another kid!! Her reasons for having #2 could be argued but I felt as if she wanted to see if she would be more maternal towards a normal kid and that’s just playing with fire if you ask me. I felt as if she put Celia in harm’s way even though it was not intentional. I went over to read your review. You seem to “get” Eva a little more than I did. I felt more sympathetic towards her at the end, because her lot in life was to care for this f’d up kid and I do feel that she realized her mistakes, albeit…too late.

      1. I think Eva’s reaction to wanting another baby is normal, though I don’t know that women go through that time of cognitive thought process.

        1. I totally get why she wanted another, but I think it would have taken me a long time to consider, along with the agreement of The Hub, before I could wrap my brain around it. It’s hard to say if she would have been a better mom had Kevin not been her first, but she didn’t seem all that maternal, even when she was pregnant and Kevin’s illness was still an unknown. Frankly, I don’t think her parenting skills were any better with #2.

          1. I agree that her parenting skills weren’t that great with Celia, and no, she wasn’t particularly maternal, which is why it’s so interesting to discuss nature v. nurture. Plenty of people grow up with not-so-great moms and turn out to be productive members of society, but I think she did her best with Kevin. Sure, maybe Kevin would have gotten help earlier if he’d had different parents, but maybe not. That’s why the end impacted me so much, because I think Eva finally became a MOM. Unfortunately, it came at a really high cost.

          2. My mom wasn’t very maternal, but I didn’t shoot up my high school LOL. I just don’t think she should be judged or blamed like that. She didn’t make him who he was. I look at my two kids, one who challenges me daily and one who is much more easygoing, and I know they just are who they are, and anything I do or say as their mom is not going to change much. I didn’t make one difficult and one easier by my maternal instincts, and NObody wanted kids more than me! Should I not have gone on to have #2 because #1 was a pain in the butt?? If a person has a challenging child the first time around, can anyone fault that person for wanting to try again for a more typical child? If Eva had been the perfect parent, Kevin still would have been awful. At least she tried. Where I can fault her is in her failure to protect Celia and for not having Kevin evaluated and hospitalized because clearly he needed to be. Franklin was the one who truly pissed me off.

  5. I have never read another book that has had such an effect on me as Kevin. It was SO HARD to get through, and all the while I felt like my insides were being pulled out of me. I did not like Eva, but I felt empathy for her. Should she had had kids? No probably not, but when has that decision ever been logically made? These days, I am questioning myself! We all question ourselves, and wonder if there is something wrong with our kids. That is why, I think, the book hits so hard. Terrifying and brilliant book. And by the way, you freaking ROCKED this review.

    1. I think it’s difficult to be a parent and no one is perfect, but lord… this book could be used as a case study on how NOT to parent a child. True, great parenting would not have made him sane, but it would have played a role in getting him the treatment he so badly needed. Heck, they ALL needed help with this.

      1. What a great site and synopsis by Tina.

        Decent parenting would have given Kevin a chance for sanity yet parenting alone is not the dispositive influence for how people develop. Absent other strong influences, I suspect Kevin never stood a chance in life.

        The Virginia Tech shooter was born frail and surrounded by a social safety net to help him through most of his life. Parents and teachers went to extremes to protect him and also to get him into Virginia Tech.

        Yet all that parenting and all those teachers/counselors weren’t enough to shield his frailty from the daily onslaught of how society cruelly bullies its weaker members.

        I also attended a school terrorized by a shooting rampage and it wasn’t until I read We Need to Talk About Kevin that I was able to consider the complexities that determine human behavior.

        Gayle comments that a discussion with the author (Shriver) reveals that Kevin was intended to be depicted as deliberate and manipulative. I’m curious to know how the author envisioned the origins of that behavior.

        1. Kevin’s situation was definitely a “perfect storm” in that there were a lot of things that contributed to his eventual break-down. It was hard for me to side with Eva because
          she came off as being so cold and seemed to lack maternal instinct, but at the same time, I understood her aversion to what was going on around her. It was an extremely tough
          book to read but it really made me think and the conversations have hit on points that I did not initially think of right after reading it.

  6. I agree with Sandy. Never has a book had such an effect on me. I didn’t blame Eva; I think she was in an impossible situation. Kevin scared the s**t out of me, just as he did her, and while she wasn’t a great mother, I don’t see how she could have been with him as her son. I remember one scene where he was sick, and was actually affectionate and needy with her. I asked Lionel Shriver about that scene at a book reading once, and she said that it was intended to show that his bravado was an act; that he was deliberate and manipulative. That underscores my empathy for her.

    1. Interesting! I was touched by that affectionate moment as well and to hear now, that Shriver used it to show his manipulative nature…makes me more sad for Eva.

  7. This book really made me think a lot about nature vs. nurture, and as a parent, it did scare me. I read this one awhile back so the details aren’t fresh in my mind. I remember not liking Eva to the point where I almost abandoned the book within the first 100 pages, but because it was for an online book club, I felt like I had to finish it. I was glad I did because it blew me away. I was expecting something bad, but…wow. The things Kevin did to his sister were especially frightening. I guess it’s easy for someone to say that Eva should have done something, but in her position, it probably was easier said than done. Great review!

    1. It’s always easier to look at the mistakes of others and say, “I could have done it better” but in this situation, I had a really hard time not faulting Eva for much of it. It’s sad too because Franklin was such a disappointment with his unrealistic views on what was normal behavior but I was more sympathetic towards him because he truly seemed to want to see the best in Kevin, whereas Eva saw only the worst. I’m not sure which is worse… seeing the best when there is no best to see? Or seeing the worst and not acting on it?

  8. I’ve known that this is a back I’d read butI didn’t know what it was about at all. Now I want to read it now! Powerful and disturbing. It also brings up the issue of nature vs. nurture which fascinates me. I imagine this is a very tough book for parents especially those who have small children. I love that having children doesn’t stop you from reading books like this.
    I’m making a note to myself to come back and read this post and comments after I read the book.

    A terrific, thought-provoking review, Ti!

  9. The end impacted me the most.

    I wonder if I would be able to see traits in my child that were a problem. Obviously there were things Eva did that should have been a red flag, but I those things were pretty over the top. If you dial it back just a teensy bit, would I was be able to see my child for who he *really* is and potentially get him the help he needs? Every serial killer, murderer, rapist, child molester, etc, had a parent. I know that most of those people have terrible families, but for the sake of discussion, would I recognize that my child has a problem? I think it’s an interesting question to discuss.

    1. You ask an interesting question. In Eva’s case, she seemed to be looking for a reason to explain her inability to bond with him, so for that reason, I expected her to see it and to do something about it. As for others… hard to say. I know that my son was easy when he was born but my daughter was so, so difficult. She demanded me 24/7, did not sleep for longer than a couple of hours until the age of 4 and I often questioned if something wasn’t right. I mentioned it numerous times at her well check appts and each time I was told she was okay. Today, she certainly seems to be but I was worried. Seriously worried. I think if a parent had no other resources available to him/her (play dates, daycare, etc) he/she might not see the difference in their own child, but surely put into an environment with other children… the signs would stand out.

      1. Mothers get blamed for everything!! I think it’s important to trust your gut when you suspect something is wrong, but when it’s your own child, it’s very difficult to be objective.

        1. I agree. Trust your gut. I was surprised that I felt so strongly about Eva because I did not have a great childhood or a mom that was June Cleaver but I think I turned out okay. I just wish Kevin had gotten help. There were a couple of times where I think he was screaming for it and expected to get it. Like when he had those interactions with the teacher. It was a missed opportunity as they say.

      2. Interesting point about your daughter, Ti. I think it’s hard to know what’s normal and what’s not unless you have resources to bounce your questions off of. Obviously, Eva had those resources and didn’t use them, and she ultimately paid the highest price.

        1. Trying to remember from the book but with Kevin being her first, Eva didn’t have other kids to compare him to, and I don’t think she spent a lot of time around other children. She was probably questioning her own judgement. And of course stupid Franklin was no help.

          1. I recall Eva noticing that he had no friends in the neighborhood and even when he was older, the one “friend” he had was such a major screw-up. I suppose she was in denial too. I probably would be if I had to deal with him day in and day out.

  10. THERE IS A SPOILER IN THIS COMMENT

    I listened to this book and, at the beginning, I felt the same way about Eva. I thought she was a piece of work and was only getting what she deserved. As the story progressed, I wondered what in the world was wrong with Franklin – he seemed to be blind to Kevin’s faults and kept making excuses for him.

    Knowing what a gun sounds like wouldn’t have helped the kids in this book. My son was a student at Tech and a lot of the students thought the noises were from construction work on campus.

    1. ******SPOILER*******

      You’re right, knowing what a gun sounds like would not have helped here. In general, these types of attacks are usually gun related. I think that is the other thing that shocked me a little in this book, because it took some time for him to carry out his plan. Lots of suffering, etc. I also remember you talking about your son’s experiences. As tragic as that event was, so much was learned from that event. Universities everywhere looked to them for guidance when coming up with their contingency plans.

    1. Yeah, you need to steer clear of this book and The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing — I thought about both of these books while I was pregnant, and not in a good way!

  11. I started this book on audio several years ago, but found the narrator’s voice/tone very annoying and had to quit. Have been meaning to get back to it in print ever since. I see there’s a new audio version at audible now, but still think I’ll read instead. Saw the film trailer not too long ago and it scared me… looks like a horror movie.

    1. If the narrator’s voice is annoying in any way, then I wouldn’t want to listen to it either. I say give the print version a try. I had no problem visualizing what was going on. Shriver is descriptive enough in her writing.

  12. I read this a few years back before blogging and was blown away. I kind of want to reread it now that I’m a more “mature” and “critical” reader but, like you said, it is just wrenching and I don’t know if I could handle it again. It is a shame that your book club didn’t read it — it would result in discussions that could last for multiple meetings I think. It isn’t a book that you read and shrug off. It gets under your skin and makes you think. Thank you for the most excellent and impassioned review.

  13. Wow…one heck of a review…I read this book when it first came out and I just remember being stunned by it…totally!!!

  14. I’m just now seeing this review and it’s funny because I JUST got this book at the library today! I look forward to reading it, and I think I’ll like the epistolary format with this one. After I’m dong reading it I’m going to come back and read your review again and will probably want to discuss!

  15. Every time I see a review of this book I think I should read it but yours is truly the first one that makes me want to pick up my Kindle and read my cop right now. A book that can affect you so strongly is a powerful book and usually are the type I enjoy – if that’s the right word for some books as its hard to classify disturbing topics as enjoyable but you know what I mean. Thanks for this really powerful review today Ti.

    1. I know what you mean. I considered adding it to my fave list for 2012 but it didn’t seem right. It wasn’t my favorite read even though I just gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. Well done? Yes. Fave? No.

  16. Just quick… I would love to chat with you over this one… next week.

    I’m beyond nervous, anxious for tomorrow’s run that I can’t eat, sleep… and must pack and prepare to our trip today! What did I sign up for!

    ps: it’s a great weightloss tool though… nerves…

  17. I have not read this book for one reason and that is because I do not know how I would handle it. As an educator of young children, including those with special needs and behavior issues, I get angry about the treatment (or, rather, mistreatment) of children for far less sometimes than the situations in this book. The way Eva treats her infant I would probably throw the book across the room before I had a chance to finish it. That is my fear. It won’t be the writing, it will be that I feel almost too much for children. And one thing I cannot. stand. at. all. is when people have children and then ignore them. It is the first sign I see of trouble to come in that child’s life, unfortunately.

    What do you think, Ti? Do you think that I should attempt this book? Do you think that as someone so passionate about these issues I will be able to stick with the book?

  18. I can see how the book deeply affected you in this unusual reading experience. Till this date I never got the last murder scene of the book out of my mind. it is very haunting. I do believe that some children inherit a certain disposition of one side of the parents and that it may take a lot of time and effort to turn that around. I do not envy those who are in the position to educate young children in school, but I do respect them.

  19. i thought this book was very powerful and I didn’t find myself mad at Eva at all. She knew that something was wrong but was afraid of acknowledging it might make it true. What if she was wrong? I applaud you in regards to talking to your kids. I always told mine that I would find them (I work in their school) and we would escape one way or another. It’s a very real thing that you and I face on a daily basis. There is easy access onto campus and into schools. To not be prepared and armed with knowledge would be incompetent. As for the schools and the administrators, I feel that for the most part they do try to take care of the “problem” child. But there are many parents who refuse to do their part and put it back on school officials. There’s only so much they can do legally. This is a book that needs to be discussed and your post was amazing!

  20. I’m skipping reading most of your comments as I plan to read this book one day, but as most parents probably feel I’m afraid to read it!! Scary subject matter for a parent with school age kids!

    1. I think I had the book on my shelf for more than two years before I decided to read it. I knew that I wanted to read it from day one, but just could’t ever find the right time for it. I am glad that I finally made time for it though.

  21. I actually donated this book unread way back when it was first released in hardcover. Just didn’t think I’d enjoy it — I now think I’d love to read it as part of a read-a-long or book club. great review Ti

    1. It’s a book that begs to be read with other people. I don’t think I could have read it by myself, without the support of others.

  22. Ti, thanks to this review I’ve kindled the book and am hoping to start it this weekend. Reading the comments and your post have already given me a lot to think about with regards to this book, that I’m really looking forward to it. Its also made me think of this family that I know – when their son was a child he exhibited troubling behaviors (like beating his sister and carrying a briefcase to school filled with bricks because he was worried he’d fly away) and they chose not to do anything about it. Later, in his twenties he shot and killed someone and has never showed any remorse for his actions. It does make you wonder what if he had received help, would he have turned out differently, or would he have still killed someone? Not everyone who had a rotten childhood turns out to be a rotten adult, so it does lead you to wonder what it is about the people who wind up being so evil. This book sounds like it leaves you with a lot of food for thought.

    1. True. I had a lousy childhood and I don’t consider myself a menace to society. That kid with the bricks though… Hmmm.. that is definitely not normal behavior. It’s hard to say if him getting help would have made a difference. If these kids are like this because of mental illness, then you’d think help and finding the right medicine to balance them out would prevent something horrible from happening, but I guess you can never tell beforehand what intervention will do. I’m sure in some case it makes it worse. I know “I” wouldn’t be able to sit aside and watch my kid unravel before my eyes. That’s just me.

  23. Wow, great conversation! I remember reading this book in about two days. I was scared to death as I read it… my son was about the same age as Kevin so it scared me to think a boy could do this at his school.

    I felt horrible for the mom in the beginning of the book, when she’s at the grocery store and had to run out. Then I quickly started to dislike her. The nature/nuture is tough. I read this so long ago and wish I could reread it but I can’t imagine anyone reading this for a second time!

    I had nightmares…

  24. ********Spoilers*******
    I’m not a mother and I am no way close to being one. This book affected me in a different way I think that when people read the book the have to remember that its from an one point perspective, Eva’s, so some of the parts may be highly exaggerated or inaccurate. For all we know Franklin could be the one whose right.
    What I love about this book is that it keeps you guessing till the end. We don’t know whether Kevin is a psychopath or a child needing attention.
    Do not get me wrong I think that what Kevin did is horrible but I feel bad for him. You somehow have hope that he is not a monster but then the Robinhood part makes you realise that he might be “nice” because he needs comfort. Like he was for a short about of time when he was sick.
    Motherhood is one of the themes another theme would be the American problem. This problem is usually ignored but Kevin does have a point, what ever he said in his interview is horrible but if you examine it he has a point. Journalist have a job because of people like him. Lawyers have jobs because of people like him. Somehow the society is dependent on the bad guys..

  25. Eva was not a happy pregnant with Kevin. She appeared absolutely miserable, plus his birthing was difficult. She couldn’t bond with him as a baby either.
    Does anyone think that maybe all that negative emotion transferred to the fetus/baby in womb? Maybe he sensed that she hated him and he was just filled with hate & venom in return? Plus he was jealous of his young sister.
    I never read the book, I’m just watching the movie, at the moment in fact, just after the “incident”.

  26. What resonated with me in this book was the fact that Kevin’s sociopathic behaviour wasn’t a result of a profound traumatic event in his life. I think most of us think that serial killers or mass murderers must have been severely abused and neglected in their childhood. Although this is the case with some, it certainly is not the case with all. I have a hard time rapping my head around the idea that some people are just born defective. And I don’t mean physical or mental disabilities. I mean born evil and manipulative. Throughout this book and especially when I finished it, I kept thinking of moments in the story I would have reacted differently to, if I was Eva. I even thought about killing Kevin at points. Did anyone else feel this way?

  27. First of all,Ti, what a great review! I just finished this book a month ago and was afraid I’d never find an active discussion of it because I’d waited so long to read it.

    I loved this book. I think it bravely dealt with people’s sometimes selfish motivations for having children. People sometimes desire and expect a specific type of child, who will fix a loneliness, unhappiness, lack of purpose in their own lives (Franklin). Or have a child because their partner or society expects it (Eva). I disagree with many people about Franklin. I think he knew exactly who Kevin was and refused to acknowledge it, choosing to blame Eva’s child-rearing instead. I think the book was honest in tapping into the cultural idea that a “normal” woman wants babies and a “good” person/mother gives birth to a super lovable, happy, “normal” child and can raise that child without a psychiatrist or special intervention. I think if Franklin or Eva had wanted primarily to give a child a happy, healthy life they would have been able to see that Kevin had psychological problems from an early age, admitted they needed professional help, and gotten him the treatment he needed. Instead they focused on whether Kevin was making their dreams come true or whether or not they were bad parents compared to their friends and family.

    ***minor spoilers ahead***

    To Kiki, I, too, thought about killing Kevin, especially after the first incident with his sister. But I can see why Eva didn’t, she was the only person who “knew” Kevin and cared about him. Although Franklin claimed she was biased against Kevin I think Eva was always giving Kevin the benefit of the doubt and wouldn’t act until she was positive he was evil. Then, of course, it was too late. I think in *some* ways, only some, she was a great mother.

    1. It is quite a book, isn’t it? It really took my emotions all over the place. I was mad, sad and often frustrated with not one parent, but the two of them together. I never really felt that the system let them down. I know so many said that the school administration should have done more but if it wasn’t being addressed at home, I can’t expect a school to take care of it. It has to be a joint venture.

      Now, after all of the shootings we’ve seen, we have to go through additional training here at the college where I work so we can identify the signs early on. The signs that Franklin ignored totally and that Eva acknowledged but failed to follow thru on.

      The last few pages broke my heart. I seriously felt as if Kevin could have been saved. That the horror could have been prevented but in the end, it’s a kid and his mom. Just that.

      1. Yes. I thought the final pages really did show that Kevin had sense of love and right and wrong and that things could have gone differently. I was really impressed with Shriver’s writing. The only epistolary novel I’ve ever really enjoyed was Ella Minnow Pea. I almost stopped reading this novel mid-way through and am so glad I didn’t.

  28. I’ve just read this book and I have to admit that it affected me deeply.Emotionally and physically. I had a tummy ache at the end of it! I felt anger towards both Eva and Kevin at various parts of the book, but mostly I was angry at Franklin. He actually seemed a bit of a simpleton towards the end. Now, 2 days after I’ve finished it, I only feel sorrow for the mother and her kid.

    1. That is exactly how I felt. I was so angry at Franklin for being such an idiot, or acting like one anyway. And there were times where I was so angry at Eva for not being a “mother” to Kevin and for being so cold and remote throughout much of the book. But by the end, I was sad for both Kevin and Eva.

      I also felt sick to my stomach. I finished it right before bed and remember how the tears just flowed right out of me.

  29. This is a good door opener to a growing population. Eva did not have the resources that confirmed Kevin demonstrating. No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions at any age, No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions , No babbling, , No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving , No words by 16 months, No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) , Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age.

    1. To defend Franklin, I have been in a relationship with a sociopath and he was very skillful in creating a personality that I adored. 15 years later I found out it was all false. I think those who think loving, honest thoughts can be far more easily fooled than those prone to dark thoughts, as Eva is.
      I also don’t believe anything could have been done to improve Kevin’s sociopathic nature. I felt Eva would probably have been an adequate parent for a normal child but Kevin broke her so substantially she was unable to parent Celia either. Kevin seemed to convince her that Celia’s normal progress was abnormal. Sociopaths are incredibly convincing. I found this book very chilling.

      1. There were moments where I felt sorry for Franklin but his golly gee attitude got to me sometimes. Of course, it was told from Eva’s point of view too and she, as a character, was so frustrated by him.

        I felt sorry for everyone at the end though.

  30. Ive watched the movie but haven yet try the book,
    I am fascinated by the comments and views of everybody,
    but i do not think anybody is to be hated,
    as its really hard to understand what were those people going through,
    Of course its easy to say that Eva is unfit,not maternal,cold,but what if she was born like that? you cant really change whats given to you at the 1st place,she probably did not know she was unfit and u can see that she herself was shocked,unused to the pregnancy,she probably knew something was wrong but this point she cant even undo the pregnancy.What she did as coping with kevin as a child is what most people would do,i think its a kind of reflex action,and tension at home enough to bring everybody crazy,and as response to Eva,Kevin worsen…its like a cycle
    Franklin wasnt to blame that much either cause he only saw whats good,he was never around during the tension and therefore blinded by it…and well celia was just at the wrong place at the wrong time..

    What i think is that perhaps put yourself in there shoes,experience what they have,feel what they feel,and perhaps at that situation the same things will occur to you….and what would happen is still unstoppable…

    1. I’ve seen the book and the movie and would definitely recommend the book. The book presents the story quite a bit differently, specifically there is more information about what the characters are thinking and Kevin’s cruelty seems much more foreseeable. I think that’s why so many people come away from the book thinking the parents could have/ should have done more. The book also deals more with Kevin’s victims and that makes Kevin less sympathetic than in the movie. Also, the book is just very well written. I highly recommend it. – Michelle

  31. An unpleasant book with unpleasant characters. Franklin was
    as thick as a plank, and Eva not much better. She was sure Kevin
    was to blame for the loss of Celia’s eye, but did nothing to protect
    her in the future. She allowed Kevin to masturbate in her proximity
    and only complained to Franklin. Was she too scared to tackle
    Kevin? No teen should get away with that disgraceful behaviour. Also,
    she allowed him to go on prozac!! She was pathetic.
    Then, after all the killings including his father and sister, Eva decides
    she loves him, and has a bed waiting for him when he gets out
    of gaol. Doesn’t ring true on any level. And why did he only get
    a miserable seven years? Are lives that cheap?

    1. It’s enough to make you crazy, isn’t it? I felt exactly the same way when I finished the novel but then I ended up feeling a bit sorry for Eva. I suppose she accepted the fact that she was his mom, regardless of what he did. It was the first time that she really accepted the fact and for that, I felt sorry for her.

      I agree, Franklin WAS as thick as a plank! I still haven’t seen the movie. I don’t think I want to. The book was enough.

      1. Was Franklin really thick as a plank? He reminded me of those mothers of abused children who say they never knew about the abuse but in reality they saw all the signs but actively avoided confirmation (e.g. knowing the husband was in the child’s bedroom at night and that the child was upset in the morning but refusing to ask why). Franklin was very creative and cruel (signs of intelligence) in his efforts to blame Eva, the babysitter, the other students, etc. for Kevin’s actions. Also, there’s that penultimate scene with Kevin, Eva, and Franklin (spoiler alert) where Kevin says something very cruel to Franklin, but Franklin doesn’t seem surprised. He seems exhausted, like he no longers has the energy to maintain his self-delusion.

        Sadly, after working in child violence prevention for several years I can say that a lot of this book rings true to me.

        1. Good point. I sort of meant like he chose to be as thick as a plank. I just could not stand him in this book. I couldn’t really stand any of them.

  32. I have just finished reading this book and it really left me emotionally raw. I saw both Eva and Franklin as being in denial about Kevin and his behaviour; Eva could see it, although always thinking the worst is not what a mother should think about their child, but didn’t really have the resources to know what to do and Franklin only saw his idealistic dream and not the reality which prompted him to ignore the signs. Even though Eva may not be described as ‘maternal’ I think she attempted to understand him as an individual and motherhood is all about learning about your child but also yourself with the child. To me, she just wanted response which she was losing with Franklin and didn’t receive from Kevin and Celia provided that, so it was easier to engage with Celia, not that I am saying it was the right thing to do. Also, the society’s condemnation of Eva was unprincipled to the point of discriminatory. She was the sole person blamed by the school and parents but children are not like animals. Parents don’t have complete control over their children’s feelings and actions, even if some think they do. I think that children are born with a lot of their qualities. While upbringing can change some, emotional features are similar to physical features. Eva and Franklin in their own way tried to be good parents, but Kevin was resistant from the start. Other children who have worse parents have positive futures; on the other hand, children whose parents give them everything can turn. It’s all about their own choices.

    1. After reading this book, I felt emotionally raw for months! I could not get the images out of my mind. I continued to sway
      back and forth with my thinking and especially over my feelings over Eva and her place in all of this.

      As you mentioned in your last sentence, it is all about choices but was there something physically wrong with him to prevent
      him from making good choices? I tend to forget that this is a work of fiction because at times, it just felt too real
      to be fiction but can all children control their actions? Probably not.

      I was just so angry that they had another child given what they knew at the time about Kevin. I felt that they didn’t do
      enough to protect her, the innocent. It broke my heart

  33. *****MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT*****
    From the comments I’ve read, though I didn’t read all of them, no one is following the book title. We aren’t talking about Kevin at all. We’re talking about Eva in terms of Kevin, as well as in terms of Franklin and society.
    Kevin himself is a fascinating character. For those of you/us who have read the book and not just watched the movie, you know how complex Kevin is. (I’m not hating on the movie, but they left out some stuff.)
    For example, the eye coffin. That is a stunning move for a psychopath with no feelings or anything, just an evil child who may or may not have been raised by an evil mother. Is Kevin really unfeeling? No.
    He probably feels in the same way you or I do, just he conceals it better, he’s been conditioned (before or after birth) to be defiant, and by all means a definite -path of some kind, whether it be socio or psycho or what have you. But he loves his mother, deep down, he said in the interview with that filmmaker. He went to bookstores to look at his mom’s books. He didn’t tear up the picture of Eva, he kept it and put it on his wall in prison.
    And the glass eye he kept, Celia’s glass eye, that wasn’t a trophy. It was a memento. And he made a coffin for it, and gave it to his mother, despite his casual words and tone when handing it over. He told her not to open the box. And she knew what was there. And he had warned her. Would someone unfeeling do that? Would they do any of it? No.
    Kevin is such a complex person (I say person not character deliberately) that we can never really understand what it is he wants, why he did what he did, or whose fault it is, if anyone’s. Ultimately, we all need to talk about Kevin, and in doing so, we discover more about ourselves than we could ever think possible.

    1. Another quick note: did anyone else, at the very end of the book, actually… like Kevin? At all? Did anyone sympathize, or at least wizen up, and see him as a legitimate human that could be… well, human? Because after his gesture with Celia’s eye, I can’t help but admire him. His actions throughout most of the book are definitely not condonable, but I do think that he is a real person, human, by the end, and I respect him for that.

      1. Can’t say that I admire him, but I did see him as human after the eye gesture. I also saw a different side to Eva at that point.
        Visiting your son in prison after killing all those people and the remainder of your family and still “loving” him because
        he is your son, that was a hard pill for her to swallow but that was the truest maternal gesture in the entire book.

    2. Thanks for stopping by to comment. I agree, the eye coffin at the end showed a side of Kevin that we had not seen
      before. The fact that he kept it and offered it to Eva, perhaps shows that he loved her more than he let on. I think a lot
      of people focus on Eva because the story is given to us from her point of view. Unreliable narrator and all that.

      I haven’t seen the movie and I am not sure I want to. I am glad I read the book but it was a very difficult book to get
      through. I expected it to be difficult, but I did not expect it to stay with me as long as it has. I am STILL thinking
      about the story.

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