We Need to Talk about Kevin

( 231 )

Overview

A stunning examination of how tragedy affects a town, a marriage, and a family.

That neither nature nor nurture bears sole responsibility for a child's character is self-evident. But such generalizations provide cold comfort if it's your own child who's just opened fire on his fellow algebra students and whose class photograph-with its unseemly grin-is blown up on the evening news coast-to-coast.

The question of who's to blame for teenage ...

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Overview

A stunning examination of how tragedy affects a town, a marriage, and a family.

That neither nature nor nurture bears sole responsibility for a child's character is self-evident. But such generalizations provide cold comfort if it's your own child who's just opened fire on his fellow algebra students and whose class photograph-with its unseemly grin-is blown up on the evening news coast-to-coast.

The question of who's to blame for teenage atrocity tortures our narrator, Eva Khatchadourian. How much is her fault? Two years ago, her son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker, and a popular algebra teacher. Because he was only fifteen at the time, he received a lenient sentence and is now in a prison for young offend ers in upstate New York.

We Need to Talk About Kevin offers no pat explanations for why so many white, well-to-do adolescents have gone off the rails while growing up in suburban comfort. Instead, Lionel Shriver tells a compelling, absorbing, and resonant story while framing these horrifying tableaus of teenage carnage as metaphors for the larger tragedy of a country where everything works, nobody starves, and anything can be bought but a sense of purpose.

Author Biography: Lionel Shriver is the author of seven novels, and has written extensively for the Wall Street Journal, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Economist. She lives in London and New York.

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  • We Need to Talk about Kevin
    We Need to Talk about Kevin  

Editorial Reviews

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. 4-city author tour. (May) Forecast: The subject, unfortunately, is nearly always timely, and this by no means sensationalist account can be confidently sold as the best novel of its kind; in fact, the extent of the author's insights should make her very promotable. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The timely topic of Shriver's (Double Fault) eighth novel is sure to guarantee lots of attention, but the compelling writing is what will keep readers engaged. This is the story, narrated in the form of letters to her estranged husband, of Eva Katchadourian, whose son has committed the most talked-about crime of the decade-a school shooting reminiscent of Columbine. From the very beginning, the reader knows that Kevin has been found guilty and is in a juvenile detention center, yet the plot is never stale. Shriver delivers new twists and turns as her narrator tells her story. Through Eva's voice, Shriver offers a complex look at the factors that go into a parent-child relationship and at what point, if any, a parent can decide if a child is a hopeless case. This novel will appeal to fans of Rosellen Brown's Before and After. Recommended for all public libraries.-Karen Fauls-Traynor, Sullivan Free Lib., Chittenango, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The bad seed/nurture vs. nature theme updated as a teenaged sniper's mother tries to understand the why behind her son's criminality, in a series of letters to her not so mysteriously absent husband. Two years earlier, when he was not quite 16, Kevin Khatchadourian went on a murderous rampage and now lives in a juvenile facility, where his mother Eva visits him regularly if joylessly. Although she has won a civil suit brought by a grieving mother who held her parenting responsible for Kevin's acts, Eva does not doubt her accountability any more than she doubts Kevin's guilt. Is she a bad mother? Is he a devil child? The implied answer to both is yes. Eva and her husband Franklin were happily married until she became pregnant in her late 30s. The successful publisher of bohemian travel guides who loves her work, Eva is more ambivalent than Franklin about the prospect of parenthood. When Kevin is born, her lack of instantaneous maternal love is exacerbated by Kevin's rejection of her breast. The baby shows-or she sees-plenty of early signs that he is "different." He refuses to talk until he's three or toilet train until he's six-a matter of choice, not ability. Babysitters quit; other children fear him. Franklin, a bland, all-American type about whom Eva talks lovingly but condescendingly, notices nothing wrong. He defends Kevin against all accusations. When Eva's daughter Celia is born, the contrast between the children is startling. Celia is sweet-natured, passive, and a bit dim, and Eva is amazed how naturally she and the girl bond. Meanwhile, Kevin grows into a creepily vicious adolescent whose only hobby is archery. The impending disaster is no surprise despite Shriver's coyly droppedhints. Eva's acid social commentary and slightly arch voice only add to the general unpleasantness-which isn't to say Shriver lacks skill, since unpleasantness appears to be her aim. Not for the faint-hearted or those contemplating parenthood. Agent: Kim Witherspoon/ Witherspoon & Associates
Boston Globe
“Impossible to put down.”
New York Observer
“An underground feminist hit.”
Wall Street Journal
“Ms. Shriver takes a calculated risk . . . but the gamble pays off as she strikes a tone of compelling intimacy.”
Newark Star Ledger
“Shriver handles this material, with its potential for cheap sentiment and soap opera plot, with rare skill and sense.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A slow, magnetic descent into hell that is as fascinating as it is disturbing.”
Seattle Times
“Furiously imagined.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Powerful [and] harrowing.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061124297
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/3/2006
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 528,607
  • Product dimensions: 7.96 (w) x 7.34 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Lionel  Shriver

Lionel Shriver's novels include The New Republic, the National Book Award finalist So Much for That, the New York Times bestseller The Post-Birthday World, and the Orange Prize winner We Need to Talk About Kevin. Her journalism has appeared in the Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. She lives in London and Brooklyn, New York.

Biography

At age seven, Lionel Shriver decided she would be a writer. In 1987, she made good on her promise with The Female of the Species, a debut novel that received admiring reviews. Shriver's five subsequent novels were also well-received; but it was her seventh, 2003's We Need to Talk About Kevin, that turned her into a household name.

Beautiful and deeply disturbing, ...Kevin unfolds as a series of letters written by a distraught mother to her absent husband about their son, a malevolent bad seed who has embarked on a Columbine-style killing spree. Interestingly enough, when Shriver presented the book proposal to her agent, it was rejected out of hand. She shopped the novel around on her own, and eight months later it was picked up by a smaller publishing company. The novel went on to win the 2005 Orange Prize, a UK-based award for female authors of any nationality writing in English.

A graduate of Columbia University, Shriver is also a respected journalist whose features, op-eds, and reviews have appeared in such publications as The Guardian, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and the Economist. Since her breakthrough book, she has continued to produce bestselling fiction and gimlet-eyed journalism in equal measure.

Good To Know

In our interview, Shriver shared some interesting anecdotes about herself with us:

"I am not as nice as I look."

"I am an extremely good cook -- if inclined to lace every dish from cucumber canapés to ice cream with such a malice of fresh chilies that nobody but I can eat it."

"I am a pedant. I insist that people pronounce ‘flaccid' as ‘flaksid,' which is dictionary-correct but defies onomatopoeic instinct and annoys one and all. I never let people get away with using ‘enervated‘ to mean ‘energized,‘ when the word means without energy, thank you very much. Not only am I, apparently, the last remaining American citizen who knows the difference between 'like' and ‘as,‘ but I freely alienate everyone in my surround by interrupting, ‘You mean, as I said.' Or, 'You mean, you gave it to whom,' or ‘You mean, that's just between you and me. ' I am a lone champion of the accusative case, and so –- obviously -- have no friends."

"Whenever I mention that, say, I run an eight-and-a half-mile course around Prospect Park in Brooklyn, or a nine-mile course in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London, I inevitably invite either: ‘Huh! I only run five! Who does she think she is? I bet she's slow. Or I bet she's lying.' Or: ‘Hah! What a slacker. That's nothing. I run marathons in under two and a half hours!' So let's just leave it that I do not do this stuff for ‘fun,' since anyone who tells you they get ‘high' on running is definitely lying. Rather, if I did not force myself to trudge about on occasion, I would spend all day poking at my keyboard, popping dried gooseberries, and in short order weigh 300 pounds. In which event I would no longer fit through the study door, and I do not especially wish to type hunched over the computer on the hall carpet."

"My tennis game is deplorable."

"Most people think I'm working on my new novel, but I'm really spending most of 2004 getting up the courage to finally dye my hair."

"I read every article I can find that commends the nutritional benefits of red wine -- since if they're right, I will live to 110."

"Though raised by Aldai Stevenson Democrats, I have a violent, retrograde right-wing streak that alarms and horrifies my acquaintances in New York. And I have been told more than once that I am ‘extreme.' "

"As I run down the list of my preferences, I like dark roast coffee, dark sesame oil, dark chocolate, dark-meat chicken, even dark chili beans -- a pattern emerges that, while it may not put me on the outer edges of human experience, does exude a faint whiff of the unsavory."

"Twelve years in Northern Ireland have left a peculiar residual warp in my accent. House = hyse; shower = shar; now = nye. An Ulster accent bears little relation to the mincing Dublin brogue Americans are more familiar with, and these aberrations are often misinterpreted as holdovers from my North Carolinian childhood (I left Raleigh at 15). Because this handful of souvenir vowels is one of the only things I took away with me from Belfast -- a town that I both love and hate, and loved and hated me, in equal measure -- my wonky pronunciation is a point of pride (or, if you will, vanity), and when my ‘Hye nye bryne cye' ( = ‘how now brown cow') is mistaken for a bog-standard southern American drawl I get mad."

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    1. Hometown:
      Brooklyn, New York, and London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 18, 1957
    2. Place of Birth:
      Gastonia, North Carolina
    1. Education:
      B.A., Barnard College of Columbia University, 1978; M.F.A. in Fiction Writing, Columbia University, 1982
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

We Need to Talk About Kevin

A Novel
By Lionel Shriver

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Lionel Shriver
All right reserved.

ISBN: 006112429X

Chapter One

November 8, 2000

Dear Franklin,

I'm unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you. But since we've been separated, I may most miss coming home to deliver the narrative curiosities of my day, the way a cat might lay mice at your feet: the small, humble offerings that couples proffer after foraging in separate backyards. Were you still installed in my kitchen, slathering crunchy peanut butter on Branola though it was almost time for dinner, I'd no sooner have put down the bags, one leaking a clear viscous drool, than this little story would come tumbling out, even before I chided that we're having pasta tonight so would you please not eat that whole sandwich.

In the early days, of course, my tales were exotic imports, from Lisbon, from Katmandu. But no one wants to hear stories from abroad, really, and I could detect from your telltale politeness that you privately preferred anecdotal trinkets from closer to home: an eccentric encounter with a toll collector on the George Washington Bridge, say. Marvels from the mundane helped to ratify your view that all my foreign travel was a kind of cheating. My souvenirs -- a packet of slightly stale Belgianwaffles, the British expression for "piffle" (codswallop!) -- were artificially imbued with magic by mere dint of distance. Like those baubles the Japanese exchange -- in a box in a bag, in a box in a bag -- the sheen on my offerings from far afield was all packaging. What a more considerable achievement, to root around in the untransubstantiated rubbish of plain old New York state and scrounge a moment of piquancy from a trip to the Nyack Grand Union.

Which is just where my story takes place. I seem finally to be learning what you were always trying to teach me, that my own country is as exotic and even as perilous as Algeria. I was in the dairy aisle and didn't need much; I wouldn't. I never eat pasta these days, without you to dispatch most of the bowl. I do miss your gusto.

It's still difficult for me to venture into public. You would think, in a country that so famously has "no sense of history," as Europeans claim, that I might cash in on America's famous amnesia. No such luck. No one in this "community" shows any signs of forgetting, after a year and eight months -- to the day. So I have to steel myself when provisions run low. Oh, for the clerks at the 7-Eleven on Hopewell Street my novelty has worn off, and I can pick up a quart of milk without glares. But our regular Grand Union remains a gauntlet.

I always feel furtive there. To compensate, I force my back straight, my shoulders square. I see now what they mean by "holding your head high," and I am sometimes surprised by how much interior transformation a ramrod posture can afford. When I stand physically proud, I feel a small measure less mortified.

Debating medium eggs or large, I glanced toward the yogurts. A few feet away, a fellow shopper's frazzled black hair went white at the roots for a good inch, while its curl held only at the ends: an old permanent grown out. Her lavender top and matching skirt may have once been stylish, but now the blouse bound under the arms and the peplum served to emphasize heavy hips. The outfit needed pressing, and the padded shoulders bore the faint stripe of fading from a wire hanger. Something from the nether regions of the closet, I concluded, what you reach for when everything else is filthy or on the floor. As the woman's head tilted toward the processed cheese, I caught the crease of a double chin.

Don't try to guess; you'd never recognize her from that portrait. She was once so neurotically svelte, sharply cornered, and glossy as if commercially gift wrapped. Though it may be more romantic to picture the bereaved as gaunt, I imagine you can grieve as efficiently with chocolates as with tap water. Besides, there are women who keep themselves sleek and smartly turned out less to please a spouse than to keep up with a daughter, and, thanks to us, she lacks that incentive these days.

It was Mary Woolford. I'm not proud of this, but I couldn't face her. I reeled. My hands went clammy as I fumbled with the carton, checking that the eggs were whole. I rearranged my features into those of a shopper who had just remembered something in the next aisle over and managed to place the eggs on the child-seat without turning. Scuttling off on this pretense of mission, I left the cart behind, because the wheels squeaked. I caught my breath in soup.

I should have been prepared, and often am -- girded, guarded, often to no purpose as it turns out. But I can't clank out the door in full armor to run every silly errand, and besides, how can Mary harm me now? She has tried her damnedest; she's taken me to court. Still, I could not tame my heartbeat, nor return to dairy right away, even once I realized that I'd left that embroidered bag from Egypt, with my wallet, in the cart.

Which is the only reason I didn't abandon the Grand Union altogether. I eventually had to skulk back to my bag, and so I meditated on Campbell's asparagus and cheese, thinking aimlessly how Warhol would be appalled by the redesign.

By the time I crept back the coast was clear, and I swept up my cart, abruptly the busy professional woman who must make quick work of domestic chores. A familiar role, you would think. Yet it's been so long since I thought of myself that way that I felt sure the folks ahead of me at checkout must have pegged my impatience not as the imperiousness of the secondearner for whom time is money, but as the moist, urgent panic of a fugitive ...

Continues...


Excerpted from We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver Copyright © 2006 by Lionel Shriver. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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First Chapter

We Need to Talk About Kevin
A Novel

November 8, 2000

Dear Franklin,

I'm unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you. But since we've been separated, I may most miss coming home to deliver the narrative curiosities of my day, the way a cat might lay mice at your feet: the small, humble offerings that couples proffer after foraging in separate backyards. Were you still installed in my kitchen, slathering crunchy peanut butter on Branola though it was almost time for dinner, I'd no sooner have put down the bags, one leaking a clear viscous drool, than this little story would come tumbling out, even before I chided that we're having pasta tonight so would you please not eat that whole sandwich.

In the early days, of course, my tales were exotic imports, from Lisbon, from Katmandu. But no one wants to hear stories from abroad, really, and I could detect from your telltale politeness that you privately preferred anecdotal trinkets from closer to home: an eccentric encounter with a toll collector on the George Washington Bridge, say. Marvels from the mundane helped to ratify your view that all my foreign travel was a kind of cheating. My souvenirs -- a packet of slightly stale Belgian waffles, the British expression for "piffle" (codswallop!) -- were artificially imbued with magic by mere dint of distance. Like those baubles the Japanese exchange -- in a box in a bag, in a box in a bag -- the sheen on my offerings from far afield was all packaging. What a more considerable achievement, to root around in the untransubstantiated rubbish of plain old New York state and scrounge a moment of piquancy from a trip to the Nyack Grand Union.

Which is just where my story takes place. I seem finally to be learning what you were always trying to teach me, that my own country is as exotic and even as perilous as Algeria. I was in the dairy aisle and didn't need much; I wouldn't. I never eat pasta these days, without you to dispatch most of the bowl. I do miss your gusto.

It's still difficult for me to venture into public. You would think, in a country that so famously has "no sense of history," as Europeans claim, that I might cash in on America's famous amnesia. No such luck. No one in this "community" shows any signs of forgetting, after a year and eight months -- to the day. So I have to steel myself when provisions run low. Oh, for the clerks at the 7-Eleven on Hopewell Street my novelty has worn off, and I can pick up a quart of milk without glares. But our regular Grand Union remains a gauntlet.

I always feel furtive there. To compensate, I force my back straight, my shoulders square. I see now what they mean by "holding your head high," and I am sometimes surprised by how much interior transformation a ramrod posture can afford. When I stand physically proud, I feel a small measure less mortified.

Debating medium eggs or large, I glanced toward the yogurts. A few feet away, a fellow shopper's frazzled black hair went white at the roots for a good inch, while its curl held only at the ends: an old permanent grown out. Her lavender top and matching skirt may have once been stylish, but now the blouse bound under the arms and the peplum served to emphasize heavy hips. The outfit needed pressing, and the padded shoulders bore the faint stripe of fading from a wire hanger. Something from the nether regions of the closet, I concluded, what you reach for when everything else is filthy or on the floor. As the woman's head tilted toward the processed cheese, I caught the crease of a double chin.

Don't try to guess; you'd never recognize her from that portrait. She was once so neurotically svelte, sharply cornered, and glossy as if commercially gift wrapped. Though it may be more romantic to picture the bereaved as gaunt, I imagine you can grieve as efficiently with chocolates as with tap water. Besides, there are women who keep themselves sleek and smartly turned out less to please a spouse than to keep up with a daughter, and, thanks to us, she lacks that incentive these days.

It was Mary Woolford. I'm not proud of this, but I couldn't face her. I reeled. My hands went clammy as I fumbled with the carton, checking that the eggs were whole. I rearranged my features into those of a shopper who had just remembered something in the next aisle over and managed to place the eggs on the child-seat without turning. Scuttling off on this pretense of mission, I left the cart behind, because the wheels squeaked. I caught my breath in soup.

I should have been prepared, and often am -- girded, guarded, often to no purpose as it turns out. But I can't clank out the door in full armor to run every silly errand, and besides, how can Mary harm me now? She has tried her damnedest; she's taken me to court. Still, I could not tame my heartbeat, nor return to dairy right away, even once I realized that I'd left that embroidered bag from Egypt, with my wallet, in the cart.

Which is the only reason I didn't abandon the Grand Union altogether. I eventually had to skulk back to my bag, and so I meditated on Campbell's asparagus and cheese, thinking aimlessly how Warhol would be appalled by the redesign.

By the time I crept back the coast was clear, and I swept up my cart, abruptly the busy professional woman who must make quick work of domestic chores. A familiar role, you would think. Yet it's been so long since I thought of myself that way that I felt sure the folks ahead of me at checkout must have pegged my impatience not as the imperiousness of the secondearner for whom time is money, but as the moist, urgent panic of a fugitive ...

We Need to Talk About Kevin
A Novel
. Copyright © by Lionel Shriver. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

In a series of compelling and introspective letters to her estranged husband, Franklin, Eva Khatchadourian dissects her married life and her mothering of her son Kevin and daughter Celia in the aftermath of Kevin's Columbine-like school slaying of seven classmates, a cafeteria worker, and a teacher.

Worried that her son's murderousness might have resulted from her deficits as a mother, Eva probes the most intimate and shocking aspects of her inner life, her marriage and her resentment of motherhood. This literary page-turner tackles the sensitive proposition that mothers can be unmoved by -- and even dislike -- their own children. Eva struggles with her lack of ready emotion when Kevin is first placed in her arms and with the subsequently hellish years of parenting a boy who both refuses to speak until the age of 3 and be potty trained until the age of 6, and who seems to enjoy nothing but the taunting of his mother. Having dramatically scaled back on her satisfying and profitable career, Eva becomes a stay-at-home mom who discovers that her son, while seemingly slow, is whip-smart and vindictive -- and cunning enough to play for his father with disastrous results. We Need To Talk About Kevin is a searing and complex look at the reasons couples decide to have children, the parent-child relationship, marriage, and the limits of love and loyalty.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Non-maternal, ambivalent mothers are one of the last taboos -- and Eva is a prime example. Were her motives for having a baby entirely selfish? And if so, how much can that have factored into the outcome of an abnormally difficult baby and apathetic child? Incontrast to Kevin, Celia was loving, needy and sweet -- and her mother's favorite, if not her father's. By the very end of the novel, has Eva's love for Kevin, or at least her primitive loyalty to him, finally become unconditional? How does this fit in with the feminist ideal of motherhood?

  2. Is Eva's view of Kevin colored by her ambivalence about motherhood in general, or perhaps by hindsight knowledge of his eventual violence? Is Eva responsible for creating a child she sees as a monster, or was he a monster all along?

  3. Eva's tone changes throughout the course of her letter-writing. She is in turns angry, frustrated and mystified. Could you describe Eva as a loving mother -- in deed if not in thought? Was Kevin overly indulged by a parenting style that let him potty train and learn at his own pace?

  4. Did the inclusion of a child into Eva and Franklin's stable, loving relationship cause the rift between them? Did the fact of a child threaten their marriage? How was Kevin perceived as a threat by Eva from conception? What expectations did Eva have of motherhood and how did she meet the reality of it? Was Franklin unsupportive of Eva?

  5. The irony of Eva having read Robin Hood to an ailing, needy Kevin at a time of almost shocking mother-son bonding is played out in the way Kevin massacred his fellow students and the teacher who took an interest in him. Since it is Eva who connects Kevin's fevered state with her recollection of his unusual interest in anything whatsoever, is it possible that Kevin's methods were meant to figuratively slay his mother?

  6. After Eva throws Kevin across the room, she takes him to the hospital. She confesses later on to Franklin, "However much I deserved rebuke, I still preferred the slow burn of private self-excoriation to the hot lash of public reproof." Are Eva's letters to Franklin her form of self-excoriation, though she is suffering public reproof as the mother of a mass murderer?

  7. Does Eva feel responsible for Kevin's series of nasty deeds and childhood "pranks?" Does she think she could have prevented any of it? Does she come to realize why Kevin would harm other children or does she give up trying to understand? How can we sympathize with a mother and father who saw all the warning signs but failed to stop the violence?

  8. Given that the story is told from Eva's perspective only, can she be trusted as reliable? How do you think Franklin's version of events would have differed? Might Eva choose to portray Kevin in childhood as more wicked than he really was, if only to make her seem less culpable for his crimes as a teenager?

  9. What were Eva's reasons for having a second child? Did Franklin forgive her for the deception? Was she repentant? How closely were her expectations met and was she gratified? How did Franklin's attitude toward Kevin and Celia differ?

  10. Toward the end of the novel, it is revealed that Kevin has more complicated feelings about his mother and some of the 9 people he murdered. This gives us a hint as to why he might have carefully planned and carried out Thursday. Does he seem pathetic or more deserving of compassion because he may have had a motive, after all?

  11. At the conclusion of the novel, did you find Eva sympathetic in a way you may not have initially? Do you think Eva has sympathy and forgiveness for herself? Is she able to accept Kevin, and to see his personality as, however uncomfortably, akin to her own?

About the Author

Lionel Shriver is a novelist whose previous books include The Female of the Species, Ordinary Decent Criminals, A Perfectly Good Family, and Double Fault. She writes frequently for the Wall Street Journal and Economist, and lives in London and New York.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 232 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2007

    Outstanding novel..very disturbing

    I just finshed this excellent novel and I am overwhelmed. The writing is outstanding, and I have not been able to stop thinking about these characters. Kevin is a sociopath AND he is evil. Mostly, I am struck by Eva's love for Kevin, which is apparent throughout, but especially at the end of the story. This novel is thought- provoking, disturbing and frightening. I highly recommend this novel to readers who love to figure out the endings (I did, with the help of wonderfully placed clues) of incredibly well written books. Truly the best novel I've read in a long while!

    17 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2008

    A Great Debate for Nature vs. Nurture

    I picked up 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' because of the subject matter. Not because it was about a killing spree at a high school, but because it was told from the viewpoint of the mother of the boy who killed his classmates and a teacher. It puts a twist on the 'common' Columbine-like story. The novel begins after the melee, as the mother, Eva, traces the history of her son Kevin back through his days as an infant, through all his apathy and wicked stunts growing up. She tells Kevin's story in long letters written every other week or so to her estranged husband. At first, this seemed like the actions of a crazy woman trying to re-establish her marriage. But who on Earth would ever want to reconcile with a nagging, pretentious woman who uses long diatribes with $10 words to fault you throughout your marriage? Not until halfway through the novel was my interest fully grabbed and I didn't tire of reading another whiny letter from Eva. Up until that point, Eva comes off as a pompous woman with whom I really couldn't relate...and really didn't want to. You later realize, though, that this perspective is probably the way Kevin viewed her and why he held such resentment for his mother. The story itself is a good example of the old Nature vs. Nurture debate. Are people inherently born evil? Or is it based on the way they're raised? Although this novel doesn't answer the question, it gives credence to both arguments and can make for an interesting discussion. The ending of the novel is very dramatic and offers an interesting manipulation in events, which I appreciated. At that point, I was absorbed into the characters' lives and actually wanted more. I felt like a part of their 'dysfunctional' family. The characters felt real, with the exception of Franklin, Kevin's father, who resembled the 'golly gee' Mike Brady from The Brady Bunch (the movie version, not the TV one). It's hard to believe that Eva would ever marry such a naïve man. After finishing the novel, my only disappointment (and boredom) with the actual writing was that the author used an overload of detail to tell what turns out to be an excellent story. (My Creative Writing teacher would have scratched red lines through numerous sentences and paragraphs, as they seemed extraneous). Less is more! If I learned anything from reading this book, it can be summed up in this one sentence: 'You can call it innocence or you can call it gullibility, but [she] made the most common mistake of the good-hearted: she assumed that everyone else was just like her.' On that note...don't watch your back, watch what's in front of you.

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2008

    Atrocious!!!!!!

    This book was AWFUL. It didn't have to be. It had so much potential with its plot. I liked how the author told the story through Eva's letters to her husband, but her use of language ... my God! I practically needed a dictionary to get through it. People just don't speak that way. It made her book incredibly difficult to navigate and care about. It was also horribly predictable. I knew the ending about 1/8 of the way through. I finished the book because I started it, but it took forever to do so, and I am sorry I even picked it up. I can think of five different authors who could have written this same exact story a million times better. What a shame.

    10 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2008

    Of Two Minds

    The book was interesting. When I finished, I was amazed that the author could write a book with an ending that made you feel like everything may be ok. But, then I started to see some darker interpretations of the ending. Like some of the other reviewers, I approached this book with some trepidation. But it was ok. Of course, my children are grown and so the topic is not so close to home. I guess my final conclusion is that it is a very good book, but that just may be because it didn't disturb me deeply as I was afraid it might. It's a nice bit of fiction and doesn't have any deep insight into the problem of children committing murder or even into families.

    9 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2008

    I didn't get the allure

    I bought this book because of all these wonderful reviews. However, the book did not live up to its reputation. I found the book to be annoying and hard to get through. Just like another reviewer commented on - the author uses TONS of UNNECESSARY $10 words and not just one at a time. I would not recommend this book anyone, in fact, I've told many people not to bother.

    9 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2007

    A reviewer

    One of the most brutally honest books I have ever read. Taking such a different slant on such a tragedy was thought provoking. An unforgettable look at our culture and getting right to the core.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 10, 2012

    Terrible waste of language.

    The writer uses language well, in my humble opinion - if only she had used it to tell a story, instead of having the story unfold in letters. No woman in the universe - no matter how austere, educated, narcissistic, etc. - could have penned these letters. It was simply unbelievable that such letters could ever have been written.

    Shriver should simply have told us her story, instead of infusing the book with unrealistic letters from wife to estranged husband. I could not stop rolling my eyes and wondering who on Earth would write like this. Answer: Nobody. Not today, not in 1800, not ever. It was that bad.

    I look forward to the movie in this instance, knowing that Tilda Swinton can save it. I hope they don't have her reading letters for 2 hours though.

    Skip it and hope the film is better.

    7 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2006

    Scrapbook of Horror

    This book is an incredible read. The narrator writes letters to her husband, revisiting their lives together both before and after the birth of their son. Fifteen year-old Kevin has murdered 7 of his classmates, a teacher and a cafeteria worker. The mother speaks matter-of-factly, talking about how she felt about the child from the moment he was born, how she is seen and treated by the community in general and by the families of her son's murdered classmates. She reminisces, scatters hints and then quietly drops bombshell after horrific bombshell concerning her life with her family. A well-crafted psychological sketch of the ultimate dysfunctional family- I highly recommend this tale.

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 27, 2010

    Chilling subject matter

    I was taken by the book's honest portrayal of what can be a difficult mother/child relationship and then the whole family relationship centering around an emotionally distanced child.
    The book moved carefully, gradually more intrigueing as the relationships emerged.
    Excellent read.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2008

    Odd

    This novel is very odd. For one thing, i would have liked it if the book touched more on the shooting and why he did it. Also, i didn't like the format of the character writing letters to the husband. It was great in the beginning, but than it slowed by the middle and got worse in the end. Couldnt even finish it.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 30, 2012

    This was one of the best books I have ever read. Yes, it's wordy

    This was one of the best books I have ever read. Yes, it's wordy, like most of Lionel Shriver's books, and yes, she doesn't always use the simplest of words. And yes, you need more than a 6th grade education to appreciate it. The quintessential question of nature vs. nurture which is the main theme of this book is one that more people ought to be thinking about in these troubled times. Can a child be born bad? Or can you mold the child to BE bad? Eva struggles with this question throughout the book as it races (and yes, I said races!) to it's horrifying climax. I couldn't put this book down, and when I finished it promptly read it again to see what I had missed the first time. Shriver always has a twist in her books that you never see coming, and this one took my breath away. (If you liked this book, read her "So Much for That".) I think Lionel Shriver is BRILLIANT, and this novel should be mandatory for anyone who is even thinking about having children.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2006

    Excellent book just finished it last night

    I was pleasantly surprised at how great this book was. Although the book is a bit slow in the begining it does pick up and you find yourself guessing how it's going to end...my guess was off the mark. Although you're not given a clear cut answer as to WHY Kevin did what he did you can draw your own conclusions based on all the 'tell tell' signs of his childhood. I don't think that Eva was any more of a 'villain' than Franklin was an absentee disciplinarian. Children DO crave boundaries. Perhaps Kevin would have responded differently had their parental tactics been role reversed? The end of the book was marvelous and showed that Kevin wasn't this super human bad seed and a mother's love no matter how cold and aloof she may be perceived IS in fact unconditonal in every sense.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2012

    Tough read

    The author seems to spend more time trying to use big, complicated words instead of telling the story. It is written in letter format. Would have been better to just write a story. Save your money or just see the movie.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2010

    too wordy, story too long

    too wordy, story too long

    3 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An interesting piece of fiction about school shootings and the impact it has on families...

    This book is difficult to get into at first, but stick with it. It's worth it at the end. This is about a completely dysfunctional family. The parents have a son, Kevin, that they don't realize is going down a road that is, ultimately, going to affect the entire family, and several other families in the community.

    Kevin is not getting everything he wants or needs out of life, so he turns to violence as the answer.

    This novel not only goes through Kevin's emotions and thoughts, but also through his parents. I found myself getting completely angry at Kevin's parents. Instead of realizing that they made mistakes and realizing that the entire situation was completely preventable, they instead throw have a huge pity party. It was so completely frustrating to me to read that, but the truth is, I can only imagine that a lot of parents are like that in similar situations.

    Stick it out to the end. It's really worth it. Not only is this one of the strangest school shootings I've ever read of (thank goodness it's fiction), but it's amazing to go through all of the aftermath with Kevin's family.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2006

    Excellent glimpse into a sociopatic mind.

    This book did get off on a slow foot. The first few chapters were excruciating, but the after Kevee Wevee was born the story takes off. Attachment disorder, non empathetic, sociopath. All of these catch phrases come to mind as you read about the life of this 'healthy, happy boy' (Daddy's words). The ending was a complete suprise, but it was eluded to very subtly in places. All in all a good read. Aside: I thought Mom had some parallels to the main character in ACCIDENTAL TOURIST by Ann Tyler.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2007

    Incredibly Poignant Thriller

    This book was painful, insightful, gripping, and heartstopping. Even though you know the result or 'end' from the beginning, the storytelling is so incredible, and filled with suspense, you simply must read on to the horrifying final 50 pages. Lionel Shriver is now a favorite writer for me!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2007

    Painful but provocative

    Figuring out the ending early made turning the page difficult sometimes. The deliberate tone and detail of Eva's letters forced me to read so much more slowly than usual. I loved that the conclusion avoided being pat or trite. This is an amazing book, that as a new mother, will haunt me for quite a while. It is NOT for the squeamish or ultra-sensitive.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2006

    Hard to read...

    This book was not at all what I expected it to be. Typically I can read a book in 2- 3 days and it took me 2 weeks to read this one. Very hard to keep up with...just dragged on and on.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    This novel was as disturbing as it was brilliant. I sometimes ha

    This novel was as disturbing as it was brilliant. I sometimes had to force myself to continue reading, but am glad I did. As a mother myself, who cannot fathom the idea of not feeling that love of your child, I felt sorry for Eva. She did love him, he was just unlovable. It makes you think, is that how all these school shooter types start? As difficult children whose parents try their damnedest to connect, only to be constantly being rebuffed and at some points, abused? It makes you wonder, and it makes you take a look at your children and wonder if, God forbid, they were to commit an awful crime would you stand behind them? I've seen parents sit behind the defendants table weep at the trials of their children, wondering themselves, how did my sweet baby do THIS? Did I miss clues? These parents are often vilified along with their children, assuming they were neglectful and provoked this behavior. The author makes you examine the story from all angles, just as she herself (Eva) does, trying to figure out how it happened. It begs the question, did Kevin spare his mother to punish her or to show love in his own way? When he gives her the "gift" at the end, and finally expresses remorse, you wonder if he is being rehabilitated or just finally becoming aware of the true enormity of his crimes. Also, the movie was brilliantly acted and portrayed the book perfectly. Ezra Miller was brilliant and scarily believable (but he's been brilliant in everything he's done), Tilda Swinton was so perfectly Eva it was amazing to watch. John C. Reilly could have been casted better, he's a little less handsome than I imagined he'd be. Oh well, still and amazing read and movie. Worth reading and worth pushing through to the end.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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