An incident as timely as the day’s headlines—a mall shooting that leaves five dead, including the gunman—catalyzes the plot of this compassionate, searching novel. When Nathan Dugan, an engineering student at Central Maine State, shoots four people before turning the gun on himself, people in his social orbit ponder whether they overlooked warning signs. Luke Finch, who shared a class with him four years before, posts a Facebook remembrance of Nathan as a weird loner. When it goes viral, Nathan’s freshman composition professor, Maggie Daley, comes under scrutiny for overlooking a paper in which Nathan fetishized guns and hunting. Juska (The Blessings) explores the characters’ ensuing efforts to assign blame and their damaging impact on the lives of Maggie; her anxiety-prone daughter, Anna; Nathan’s mother; and others. The novel also expertly depicts the way in which, in the wake of a public tragedy, the echo chamber effect of the internet (including a harmful YouTube video) and social media easily convert speculation and supposition into damning “fact.” Although some of the peripheral characters only exist to serve the plot, Juska’s novel is moving and memorable in its portrayal of people unexpectedly involved in devastating events. (Apr.)
"In elegant, gripping prose, If We Had Known offers a startling and empathetic look at the humanity behind the all-too-frequent headlines. Juska has produced that rarest and best kind of literature-a page-turner with a message and a heart."Darin Strauss, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Half a Life
"What a gripping and wise book this is. Elise Juska's unparalleled ability to convey how a single tragic event reaches out to change the lives of many is on full and compelling display here. I love when I read a book like If We Had Known and discover my next go-to gift for all my favorite readers."Robin Black, author of Life Drawing
"[Juska] strikes a cozy tone that is the literary opposite of toxic masculinity...In our age of political rancor and tweet storms befitting our state of emergency, there is something radical about a take on the gun problem that concerns itself more with raising questions than ire."New York Times Book Review
"A tender, whip-smart meditation on the origins and aftermath of tragedy. Here Juska asks us an important and quietly devastating question: In what ways are we responsible to and for each other?"Carmen Maria Machado, author of the National Book Award Finalist Her Body and Other Parties
"Switching between viewpoints, Juska contrasts the actions of a split second and the slow burn of a lifetime of behavior to show that both can have extensive, damning consequences that are rarely foreseen."Booklist
"Captivates through the close and honest lens it places upon each of its characters."RT Book Review
"Juska's story nests in a thicket of current issues: social media, gun violence, teenage anxiety and anorexia, and the responsibility of academics with regard to troubled students. Well-written, realistic, and suspenseful to the point of dread."Kirkus Reviews
"Juska's compelling narrative tackles complex issues about society's judgment of and responsibility for others. Can we accurately predict violent acts? Who is responsible for intervening?"Shelf Awareness
"An incident as timely as the day's headlines-a mall shooting that leaves five dead, including the gunman-catalyzes the plot of this compassionate, searching novel....Moving and memorable in its portrayal of people unexpectedly involved in devastating events."Publisher's Weekly
"A literary tour de force...a riveting new novel about one of the most urgent crisis of our time....Engrossing and provocative, combining sharp plot twists with Juska's award-winning, trademark literary sophistication, If We Had Known is at once an unforgettable mother-daughter journey, an exquisite portrait of a community in turmoil, and a harrowing examination of ethical and moral responsibility in a dangerously interconnected digital world."Book Bub
"Highly readable... Juska constructs "If We Had Known" with intelligence [and] sensitivity...digging deep into her characterizations and settings. Juska also critiques the lure of social media, clearly and smartly depicting its potential for unthinking destructiveness."
Portland Press Herald
"This brilliantly-written novel is a great read for those who look for good fiction built around serious issues."
Washington Book Review
"Juska explores the aftermath of a violent event in a story that successfully speaks to issues of gun violence, the rise of anxiety in young people, the use and abuse of social media, and the role of educators today, capturing human vulnerability and the impact of tragedy on survivors. Recommended."Library Journal
When her former student goes on a shooting spree at a mall in small-town Maine, a writing professor is faced with a moral challenge.Maggie Daley is the rare academic who loves teaching freshman comp. "She prided herself on coaxing even the most passive among them to care about their writing. Write about what matters, she insisted. Anything else is a waste of time." With that assignment, nearly three decades of students have poured out their hearts to her about their addictions, depression, grief, and eating disorders; it comes with the territory. Then one day, Nathan Dugan, whom she taught four years earlier, kills several people, including himself, at the local mall. The next day, one of Nathan's classmates posts on Facebook a recollection that the shooter had written "a paper that was really weird." Maggie is asked to go back and find Dugan's work in her files, and when she does, she makes the first of a series of very dubious decisions, ultimately involving both her daughter and her lover in the mess she creates. Maggie is not an easy character: plain, old-fashioned, and essentially friendless. Her husband left her because she's emotionally cold and obsessed with her teaching; since then, she's gone on to start an affair with a married colleague. Her only child, Anna, a second protagonist, suffers from extreme anxiety and anorexia, only barely controlled by medication and therapy. As this crisis hits, Anna is about to leave home for college, a difficult prospect for both mother and daughter. Unfortunately, both of these troubled characters start to lose their holds on the reader's sympathy (mother) and interest (daughter). Inspired by the Virginia Tech shooting, Juska's (The Blessings, 2014) story nests in a thicket of current issues: social media, gun violence, teenage anxiety and anorexia, and the responsibility of academics with regard to troubled students.Well-written, realistic, and suspenseful to the point of dread.
Longtime English professor Maggie Daley teaches an introductory course required of all freshmen, in which students write about themselves, often revealing life-changing events and current struggles. Maggie has occasionally picked up on clues from troubled students, even preventing at least one suicide. When she learns that a former student has gone on a shooting rampage at the local mall, she recalls him as distant, cold, and unplugged in class. Searching through her records, she finds an essay he wrote that included minute descriptions of the many different kinds of weapons that could be used in hunting. Did the paper reveal problems she should have picked up on? Could she have done something then to prevent the shooting now? VERDICT Presenting realistic characters, Juska (The Blessings) explores the aftermath of a violent event in a story that successfully speaks to issues of gun violence, the rise of anxiety in young people, the use and abuse of social media, and the role of educators today, capturing human vulnerability and the impact of tragedy on survivors. Recommended for general fiction readers. [See Prepub Alert, 10/16/17.]—Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence