Book Review // A Mother’s Reckoning

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Book Name: A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy
Author: Sue Klebold
◐ Genre: Memoir
◐ Pages: 336
◐ Synopsis (Goodreads): 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.

Recommended for those who are interested true crime and memoir, those who would like a personal perspective of the Columbine shooting.

Content Warning:
violence, death, mass murder, school shooting, intense grief, suicide, child loss

Review: 3/5 ⭐
This was a difficult book to rate, and not just due to the subject matter.

The word “Columbine” carries with it an array of images, feelings, and thoughts. Perhaps many of us remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news.

This book doesn’t go over the play by play events of the incident. Other books have already done that (I recommend Columbine by Dave Cullen for a detailed look at the actual events). Rather, it is a personal account from Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the shooters, Dylan Klebold. Her story should make any parent wary and cautious.

How well do we really know our children?

For Sue, Dylan was her sunshine boy—the son who never made trouble, who started out in a gifted academic program. Compare to his older trouble-making brother, Dylan was her easy child. And their family? Just a typical, middle-class family. Both parents were heavily involved in their sons’ lives and seemed to spend plenty of time together.

No family is perfect, but as Sue states, theirs was not a family with trauma, and Dylan was not a typical anti-social deviant showing early warning signs that he would one day be a mass murderer. While somewhat shy and reserved, he had close friends and an active social life.

This book is her warning.

There is perhaps no harder truth for a parent to bear, but it is one that no parent on earth knows better than I do, and it is this: love is not enough.

Sue begins with the day the shooting happened, and tells of her family’s experience. She describes Dylan’s birth and childhood, into adolescence. Throughout the book, she explores signs she might have missed that Dylan was struggling. She encourages parents to push for answers and cautions against assuming that everything is fine, especially with teenagers.

I can’t say I enjoyed this book, though I can appreciate its message. The Columbine case remains one of fascination to me because there are no easy answers as to why it happened. I do feel for Sue, as she is also a mother who lost her son. The atrocities he committed can’t erase the love she carries for him. Yet her grief journey is complicated by the fact that her son has caused the grief of many other parents. She is fully aware of this and grapples with the conflict.

Sue Klebold’s personal reflections on grief resonated with me the most, especially as a mother who has also lost children. She describes the experience of grief so vividly, and these passages were the most vulnerable and raw.

As for the rest of the book, some stylistic elements detracted from its overall quality. Klebold gets repetitive, and the pacing was wonky. She mixes personal reflection with biographical events, then spends most of the last third discussing the importance of mental health and how she has become an advocate for mental health awareness, depression, and suicide. While I can see how it all ties in, it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been. The shift instead made her sound preachy.

The Klebold’s story still haunts me because it seems like theirs was a loving family. The parents loved their children, were involved and relatively close to their children, yet Dylan still went on to murder his classmates and teacher. How does that happen?

Sue writes about the agony of knowing how deeply she loved her son and how often she expressed it, but he still couldn’t feel it. As a mother, there are few greater fears than that.

As parents, and as a society, we must absolutely take heed.

↠ Get your copy of A Mother’s Reckoning ↞
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Some parents damage their children, but that does not mean that all troubled children have incompetent parents.

The symptoms of intense grief—memory loss, attention deficit, emotional fragility, incapacitating fatigue—are surprisingly similar to those resulting from traumatic brain injury.

Tom’s analogy is that a tornado has destroyed our house, and we can only live in one part of it. This is what living with grief is like. You dwell in that small place where you can function.

A friend told me once that the brain “on grief” is like an older-model computer running a program drastically too complex for its capacity—it grinds and stutters and halts over the simplest calculation. It took great effort just to hear what others said.

Suicidal thought is a symptom of illness, of something else gone wrong. Most suicides are not impulsive, spur- of-the-moment decisions at all. Instead, most of these deaths are the result of a person losing a long and painful battle against their own impaired thinking. A suicidal person is someone who is unable to tolerate their suffering any longer. Even if she does not really want to die, she knows death will end that suffering once and for all.

It’s widely acknowledged among those who grieve that the second year is often worse than the first. The first year, you’re trying to adjust to the newness of the suffering, and to get through the days. It’s during the second year that you realize you’ve lost sight of the shoreline. There’s nothing but emptiness ahead and behind, a vast loneliness stretching out as far as you can see. This, you realize, is permanent. There will be no turning back.

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