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We Need To Talk About Kevin (2003)

by Lionel Shriver

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,776367998 (4.09)1 / 680
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)
    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
    Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland (verenka)
    verenka: Both books deal with the aftermath of school shootings but from different perspectives.
  7. 30
    The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb (freddlerabbit)
  8. 10
    The Dinner by Herman Koch (INTPLibrarian)
    INTPLibrarian: Disturbed child and parents dealing with it. Both with twists / unexpected parts.
  9. 10
    A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold (TheLittlePhrase)
  10. 10
    The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah (JeaniusOak)
    JeaniusOak: Both novels explore difficult themes surrounding Motherhood.
  11. 00
    Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (suniru)
  12. 22
    The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (RidgewayGirl)
  13. 00
    Boy A by Jonathan Trigell (FemmeNoiresque)
  14. 00
    Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist (julienne_preacher)
  15. 12
    The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan (Monika_L)
  16. 03
    Empire Falls by Richard Russo (mcenroeucsb)

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English (351)  French (3)  German (3)  Dutch (3)  Italian (2)  Spanish (2)  Finnish (1)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (367)
Showing 1-5 of 351 (next | show all)
Three days before his sixteenth birthday, Kevin Katchadourian goes into his high school, where he shoots and murders seven fellow pupils, a teacher and a cafeteria worker. In a series of letters to her former husband, Kevin’s mother Eva recalls his upbringing and their lives together.

I’ll be honest – for the first 100 pages of this book (my edition was exactly 400 pages) I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it. That said, it’s not necessarily a book that you can enjoy as such, given that it is about a school shooter. It is set in 2000, two years after the horrific incident, and while Kevin and his specific crime is fictional, it references several real life school shooters. It is a sobering subject, but despite this I have become absorbed in other books on the same subject (for example, the brilliant Nineteen Minutes, by Jodi Picoult).

Eva is frankly, not an easily likeable person – although I sense that she was written that way deliberately. Her ambivalence towards her son since before he was even born, was apparent, and she wrote about him as if he was evil from the moment he arrived in the world. The question at the heart of the book is whether someone can be born evil or if – in this case – Kevin turned out the way he did as a result of his mother’s attitude towards him.

From about 100 pages in however, the book captured and held my attention. I still did not really warm to Eva, although I did feel so desperately sorry for her. I wondered if she was a reliable narrator, and if all the horrible things that Kevin did prior to the school shooting were actually as she described them, but of course events bore out the fact that he was a cruel and reckless young man.

Eva is very verbose and rarely uses one word if she can manage to use twenty. She is also clearly very intellectual and has a superiority complex to others. But she is not without compassion, even if she is very selfish. I did not like her husband Franklin either, although admittedly we only ever get to know him through Eva’s own filter. But his blind defence of his son made me want to shake him for his naivety. (Again though, I wonder how the same events would have played out written from Franklin’s point of view.)

Anyway – it’s relentlessly bleak, but you kind of have to expect that going in. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for a number of years, and I’m glad I finally did. On the whole, I would recommend it although I don’t think I would rush to read any more books by this author. ( )
1 vote Ruth72 | Nov 30, 2020 |
Does she ever stop talking about herself? Herself with really fancy words?

Oh yes, thank goodness. Adding in more characters has made it so I can appreciate it better.

Wow what a story. That will be unforgettable.

Unfortunately the author writes "too smart" for me.

Reminder notes for myself:

She bought the bow and arrow as a father and son project. He loved the Robin Hood story, reading it multiple times

There was a 2 week period when Kevin was sick. He was a normal boy, needing his mom, properly responding in conversations. "He was a completely different person. And that's how I achieved an appreciation for how much energy and commitment it must of taken him the rest of the time to generate this other boy (or boys)." She could of been a good, happy mom, if he was a good kid. :( How hard to explain this odd behaviored child and care for him.

Read in 2015.
( )
  Seayla2020 | Nov 21, 2020 |
Were Eva's ambivalent feelings about motherhood part of what made Kevin into such a monster, or are some people simply born evil? I finally read this book (which takes place in 2001) after the massacre of Newtown schoolchildren in Connecticut last month. It got under my skin and chilled me to the bone. Then I watched Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller take this on in the 2011 movie by director Lynne Ramsay.

The relationship between these two very unlikable characters is fascinating, but readers must decide at the end...do we completely trust the narrator's point of view?

Terrifying to read, especially as the parent of a stand-offish 14 year old boy! ( )
  Mona07452 | Oct 23, 2020 |
The first two-thirds of this book move very slowly, and the format of Eva writing to her estranged husband Franklin as the device to move the story forward is cumbersome and annoying. The author is extraordinarily verbose in getting her points across, and it became very tempting to skip sections. The last 20 pages of the book redeem the story, and I'm still thinking about it today. However, all of the main characters are really unlikeable and do not elicit any sympathy whatsoever. Plus, the book was at least 100 pages too long and would have benefited from some judicious editing. ( )
  flourgirl49 | Sep 21, 2020 |
I had such mixed feelings about this novel, We Need to Talk about Kevin.

For much of this read, I harbored feelings of great disdain. If I were not reading this for book club, I likely would've not finished. Though I pushed forward, I knew this book could do no better than two stars. Why?

Mostly because of the style of writing. Reading was terribly painful. The novel is set up as a series of letters from Eva to her estranged husband, Franklin. There are so many problems with these letters, and therein lies 90% of the problem with this story. For starters, the letters are overwrought. Eva is the founder of a very successful series of travel guides. She's writing to her husband. And from the first sentence, we get this:
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.
Who writes to their spouse this way? Every page is like this, full of words most of us would likely think of only if we were using a thesaurus. Te-di-ous.

So maybe Eva just loves details and has a really great handle on vocabulary. I'd be willing to forgive that (though not enjoy it) if I thought that was the case. Here's why I don't believe that for a second: Shriver makes another huge blunder with letters to Franklin--she explains EVERYTHING HE ALREADY KNOWS to him. That is frankly terrible writing. I get it, the reader doesn't know and needs the details. Well, find another way to make that work. Because when I learned that Eva was writing out HUNDREDS of pages of dialogue and events that happened in Franklin's presence, I wanted to do terrible things to this book. I don't care that the twist can potentially negate all of this--it's still terrible writing.

And yet, I recognized that this story was also brilliant in some ways. It was addressing subjects that at the time must have been shocking. A school shooting in such vivid details. The brutal honesty of a mother who hated being a mother. And the ending did catch me by surprise. The bones of a tremendously important story are here, but the flesh of it, the ornate garments, all seemed very wrong.
  chrisblocker | Aug 13, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 351 (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 (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lionel Shriverprimary authorall editionscalculated
Mosse, KateIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trouw, MiekeTranslatorsecondary 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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Wikipedia in English (2)

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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Average: (4.09)
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1.5 13
2 65
2.5 19
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 1921145080, 192175849X

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