Silent Alarm is a young adult novel about a school shooting as experienced by the shooter’s sister, also a student at the high school where the shooting takes place. The strength, and the main weakness, of the novel is that it never answers the basic question left in the aftermath of all school shootings: why? In this case, why did Alys Aronson’s older brother, Luke, kill fifteen people and then turn the gun on himself? How could the brother that Alys loved and learned from do such a thing? Of course, I have no answer to the question of why one man’s sin leads to death, for himself and for others, while another’s equal sin leads to repentance, mercy, and life.
What the novel does well is present the predicament of those who are left behind in the families of murderers, in particular. Alys is devoted, conflicted, and victimized. Because Luke is not around for them to hate and to blame, the victims’ families blame Alys and her family. How could they have let Luke do such a horrific thing? How could they not have known?
Alys also blames herself. Maybe she should have known that something was wrong with Luke. Maybe she should have not enjoyed being the favored child, the one who followed the rules. Maybe she should have died, too, when Luke pointed the gun at her, but didn’t shoot.
Silent Alarm is not an enjoyable book. It ends with some small wisp of hope for Alys, but not much more that that.
“And even as I lie there hoping, hoping with everything I am that somehow I have the right to go on, to make a life for myself apart from what Luke has done, I also know that it might just be a fantasy, a moment of wishful thinking. A story I tell myself in moments of quiet contemplation, when the wind outside shifts through the trees in a whisper, rustling the curtains, and lulling me into sleep.
But in spite of everything that’s happened, I would like to believe it.”
Don’t read for answers, and don’t read if you are prone to or connected with depression or depressive violence. But if you’re interested in a different perspective on school shootings and their aftermath, Silent Alarm is a well-written interpretation of a tragic event, sans nasty language and gratuitous violent description. (Of course, the central event itself is quite violent.)