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We Need to Talk About Kevin (2003)

by Lionel Shriver

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,8263971,154 (4.09)1 / 713
Eva never really wanted to be a mother and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklyn.… (more)
  1. 81
    Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (bnbookgirl, BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Both of these novels are about school shootings and the alienated teenage boys responsible for them. 'We need to talk about Kevin' depicts the complex relationships within the shooter's family, whereas 'Nineteen minutes' focuses on the larger community affected by the event.… (more)
  2. 81
    Columbine by Dave Cullen (GCPLreader)
  3. 60
    The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing (christiguc, humppabeibi, kjuliff)
    christiguc: Both are books that explore the nature vs. nurture question in disturbing situations.
  4. 50
    Before and After by Rosellen Brown (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Both of these novels tell haunting, harrowing stories about the family relationships of teenage boys who commit unthinkable crimes: in 'We need to talk about Kevin' a school shooting, and in 'Before and after' a teenager's murder of his girlfriend.… (more)
  5. 62
    Defending Jacob by William Landay (arielfl, Booksloth)
    arielfl: Both books are about bad seed boys who murder and who have mothers who have an inkling about their true nature and with fathers who deny, deny, deny.
  6. 30
    The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb (freddlerabbit)
  7. 30
    Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland (verenka)
    verenka: Both books deal with the aftermath of school shootings but from different perspectives.
  8. 10
    The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah (JeaniusOak)
    JeaniusOak: Both novels explore difficult themes surrounding Motherhood.
  9. 10
    The Dinner by Herman Koch (INTPLibrarian)
    INTPLibrarian: Disturbed child and parents dealing with it. Both with twists / unexpected parts.
  10. 10
    A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold (TheLittlePhrase)
  11. 22
    The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (RidgewayGirl)
  12. 00
    Boy A by Jonathan Trigell (FemmeNoiresque)
  13. 00
    Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist (julienne_preacher)
  14. 00
    Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (suniru)
  15. 00
    The Push by Ashley Audrain (kjuliff)
    kjuliff: Child Killers
  16. 12
    The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan (Monika_L)
  17. 03
    Empire Falls by Richard Russo (mcenroeucsb)

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» See also 713 mentions

English (379)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (3)  German (3)  French (3)  Italian (2)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (396)
Showing 1-5 of 379 (next | show all)
In We Need To Talk About Kevin, main character Eva Khatchourian isn't a very good mother. She would (and does) admit that freely. She never had a burning need or desire to be a mother; she was mostly content with her marriage to Franklin Plaskett, their life in New York City, and her position as founder and CEO of A Wing And A Prayer, a series of backpack travel guides. But all her friends were having kids, and Franklin really wanted one, and she'd been feeling like her life needed a bit extra spark for a while, so she agrees to have a child. It's rough from the start: she chafes at the restrictions foisted upon her as a pregnant woman, she has a long and difficult labor, and when Kevin is finally born, he refuses to nurse or even drink her breast milk from a bottle. She suffers from post-natal depression, and when Kevin proves to be difficult at best throughout his entire childhood, she fails to bond with him. Not only that, but as he grows up, she comes to see malice behind nearly all of his actions and regard him with suspicion and fear. Just before his sixteenth birthday, he kills a teacher and several classmates at school. So she was right about him all along...wasn't she?

Eva, whose story is told by Shriver as a series of letters from her to Franklin a year or two after Kevin's school rampage, is a classic unreliable narrator. While she's unafraid of presenting herself in a negative light or admitting fault, she's also our only source of information about Kevin. The incidents she relates about his conduct are often unsettling and worrisome...but they're hand-selected, by a woman who has had all her worst thoughts about her offspring confirmed by what he did. But while there were plenty of people Kevin alienated throughout his life besides his mother (a succession of childhood nannies, kids in his play groups, school classmates), Kevin did have people in his corner, most significantly his father, as well as a high school teacher who ended up among his victims.

The question the novel raises and never answers (but gives you lots of food for thought in both directions along the way) is the age old one: nature or nurture? Kevin was difficult from the moment he was born, but if he'd been able to bond with his mother, would he have been just plain difficult, instead of a murderer? Eva herself is prickly and sometimes, even often, unlikeable. Maybe he just takes after his mother that way. How much does Kevin's pushing back against her result from her aloofness and reserve from him? On the other hand, if he is truly evil, like she sees him and his own murders tend to indicate, what could she have done to change that? Eva and Franklin cared, were present, took an active interest in him and his life. There are a lot of kids who don't even have that. I found myself changing opinions as I read, sympathizing with Eva, then Kevin, back and forth. Shriver doesn't let either of them off the hook, nor should she. There's plenty of culpability to go around. This sucked me in and haunted me after it was done. I'm sure I'll continue to think about it in the future. It's disturbing subject matter, but it's phenomenally well-written and I highly recommend it. ( )
  ghneumann | Jun 14, 2024 |
This was a wonderful yet disturbing book that raised some very interesting questions. I greatly enjoyed how it was written and was so wrapped up in Kevin and his mother’s relationship that I never saw the ending coming. I went through so many emotions reading this as well. Frustration, anger, sadness, surprise, disgust, understanding...I don’t cry often reading books but I did a few times while reading this one. Ultimately, though, I would have enjoyed it much more had the writing seemed more...realistic? Less sophisticated? I’m not sure what the right word is but I felt like the author was trying to “show off” her vocabulary skills, as ridiculous as that may sound. It was just all so excessive. Additionally, I have a hard time believing someone would write letters in that fashion...especially in 1999/2000. Anyhow, the extravagant descriptions and the somewhat drawn out ramblings that popped up throughout the book caused my interest to sway here and there. Overall it was a story worth reading. ( )
  jbrownleo | Mar 27, 2024 |
UGH, not for me. Didn't get very far. Took a month before I gave up on it. ( )
  73pctGeek | Mar 5, 2024 |
I came late to this book . . . because I hated the cover (not the one shown above, by the way). Glad I overcame that. So brilliant, and so, so dark. Painful, haunting. I wanted to kill Kevin myself, long before he offed his classmates and . . . others. I had read another book by her, which was also dark and painful and so very good. Anyway, highly recommended but not at all easy. ( )
  fmclellan | Jan 23, 2024 |
Not sure if this is a 2* or a 4* book. Don't feel it deserves a bland 3 - sometimes a 2 is better than a 3.

On the positives, the book is very engrossing. The two main characters (one the narrator) are nicely defined and complex. It's an interesting topic, and there is a good, page-turn-inducing sense of menace growing steadily.

On the downsides... Well, it's frankly unbelievable. Some of the reactions of people to the more... unusual events seem ludicrous, and that in turn makes other people's reactions to their reactions ludicrous. I feel that Shriver was trying to walk a line between foreshadowing, without undermining the plot, and I don't think she succeeded.

I think the book would have been more resonant, more powerful without the big school shooting. There is no suggestion that this is supposed to help understand why people commit such atrocities - each seems to be considered as sui generis (although banal in its unoriginality, and the predictability that they will reoccur). No, the book is more about bringing up a difficult and disturbing child, and I feel would have been better left at that. But, and this may be a trifle unfair no Shriver, that would have been less headline-grabbing.

I'm also not convinced of how realistic it is that Kevin's behaviour and psycopathic tendencies - kinda obvious as they are here - would have been undetected or ignored for so long. Again, Shriver seems to want to have her cake and eat it here.

Finally, I feel there's supposed to be a big reveal, but it was telegraphed so far in advance that it's not surprising when it happens (which I wouldn't mind, except it was built up so much). Again - I think I see the balance she was going for, but feel she missed it by a wide margin. Which, isn't a bad summation of how I feel about the book in general.
  thisisstephenbetts | Nov 25, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 379 (next | show all)
A powerful, gripping and original meditation on evil
At a time when fiction by women has once again been criticised for its dull domesticity, here is a fierce challenge of a novel by a woman that forces the reader to confront assumptions about love and parenting, about how and why we apportion blame, about crime and punishment, forgiveness and redemption and, perhaps most significantly, about how we can manage when the answer to the question why? is either too complex for human comprehension, or simply non-existent.
The epistolary method Shriver uses, letters to Eva's absent husband, strains belief, yet ultimately that's not what trips us up. It's Eva's relentless negativity that becomes boring and repetitive in the first half of the book, the endless recounting of her loss of svelteness, her loss of freedom.
added by stephmo | editSalon.com, Barbara O'Dair (Aug 12, 2004)
Maybe there are books to be written about teenage killers and about motherhood, but this discordant and misguided novel isn't one of them.
added by stephmo | editThe Guardian, Sarah A. Smith (Nov 15, 2003)
A little less, however, might have done a lot more for this book. A guilt-stricken Eva Khatchadourian digs into her own history, her son's and the nation's in her search for the responsible party, and her fierceness and honesty sustain the narrative; this is an impressive novel, once you get to the end.


» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shriver, LionelAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Calzada, JavierTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cartano, FrancoiseTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frick-Gerke, ChristineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jiménez, Javier CalzadaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koch, SaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Komló, ZoltánTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mosse, KateIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Predoiu, IoanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ribeiro, VeraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosenblat, BarbaraNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strempel, GesineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trouw, MiekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vieira, BethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vilcu, IoanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A child needs your love most when he deserves it least.
--Erma Bombeck
For Terri
One worst-case scenario we've both escaped.
First words
I'm unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you.
Every now again, one of those books comes along that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end when you read it. (Introduction)
I can roughly divide my novels into two stacks. (Afterword)
You were ambitious - for your life, what it was like when you woke up in the morning, and not for some attainment.  Like most people who did not answer a particular calling from an early age, you placed work beside yourself; any occupation would fill up your day but not your heart.  I liked that about you.  I liked it enormously.
Only a country that feels invulnerable can afford political turmoil as entertainment.
You never wanted to have me, did you?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Eva never really wanted to be a mother and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklyn.

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Eva never really wanted to be a mother; certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher who tried to befriend him. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her absent husband, Franklyn. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.
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