Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Book Review: Newtown - An American Tragedy by Matthew Lysiak

Release date: December 10, 2013
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pages: 288
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository - Adlibris

Description (from Goodreads):

A journalist for The Daily News (New York) offers a “meticulous account of the Newtown massacre and its aftermath.…it’s been a year, and this harrowing book might be a reminder that the debate needs reviving” (Kirkus Reviews).

The world mourned the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012.

We remember the numbers: twenty children and six adults, murdered in a place of nurture and trust. We remember the names: teachers like Victoria Soto, who lost her life protecting her students. A shooter named Adam Lanza. And we remember the questions: outraged conjecture instantly monopolized the worldwide response to the tragedy—while the truth went missing.

Here is the definitive journalistic account of Newtown, an essential examination of the facts—not only of that horrific day but the perfect storm of mental instability and obsession that preceded it and, in the aftermath of unspeakable heartbreak, the controversy that continues to play out on the national stage. Drawn from previously undisclosed emails, police reports, and in-depth interviews, Newtown: An American Tragedy breaks through a miasma of misinformation to present the comprehensive story that must be told—today—if we are to prevent another American tragedy in the days to come.

Hmm, I am not quite sure how to approach the process of writing this review. A couple of times a year, I read these books that are very different from the YA contemporaries I normally read, and the experience of writing reviews for such books obviously differs a lot too. Last year, Dave Cullen's Columbine was one of my top 10 books for the year, and I had high hopes for Newtown, but unfortunately this book really wasn't what I expected it to be. 

We all are probably somewhat aware of what happened in Newtown and Sandy Hook Elementary school on the morning of December 14th, 2012. The events were covered in news all over the world, and sparked conversations about gun control, mental health treatment and security of children and staff in schools. The events also made people realize that horrors like this can happen to anyone, even to those who live in a well-adjusted, peaceful neighborhood and attend acclaimed schools. 

I was blown away by Dave Cullen's meticulous account of the events that led to, took place and resulted from the violence at Columbine High School in his nonfiction book Columbine. My expectations for Newtown were similar, but unfortunately I was left disappointed. The first difference between the two and one that I noticed pretty quickly after delving into the book was the fact that unlike Cullen, who had put ten years of research into his book. Lysiak seems to have gathered everything together in a hurry for the book to be released around the first anniversary of the horrors in December 2013. The lack of meticulous research shows, and things that could have been replaced by accounts from academic, researchers and other professionals are filled with speculation and statements for example from the town minister.

The foreword for the book is written by the town minister, which almost made me instantly put this book down. I am not religious at all, and I was not looking for a religious perspective into the events. Yes, what happened was evil and wrong, but rather than just getting the description of it being "evil", I wanted the level of detail I found from Columbine, and unfortunately, that kind of detail, in my opinion, cannot be gained through religion. After the foreword, the role of religion in the narrative decreases, but it is still there, and I think instantly from the beginning it kind of tampered down the credibility of this book for me.

I didn't know much about the offender beforehand, so the chapters that delved into his family life and his mental health problems were interesting. Despite that, I continually felt like something was lacking. I don't really know what it actually was, but the lack was there nevertheless. Obviously, since much of the people who actually evidenced the horror were children, their direct accounts of the events are not included in this book, but it is obviously possible that one day they wish to share their stories with the world.

Lysiak dives into some interesting debates surrounding the "causes" for Sandy Hook, such as the offender's upbringing and his mental health problems and the lack of treatment he had throughout his childhood. I think the author places too much blame on the mother of the offender, who made mistakes, but who definitely wasn't fully to blame for what happened, at least not in my opinion. In many accounts, there are talks about the offender and his 26 victims, but I think one shouldn't forget the fact that his mother was a victim too, brutally shot to her own bed. 

There are some extremely touching passages in the book, especially the chapter dealing with the funerals of the victims. It is at that chapter that the book reaches its most intimate moments. For someone looking for a touching, human-centered story, this book might work, but since I was looking for something much more researched and developed, my feelings towards this book are kind of contradictory. While I appreciate Lysiak's effort and the voice he gives to the victims, I continually kept feeling like this book did not really reach the levels of research and detail I wished it would.

The offender definitely was the evil here, there is no doubt about that, but as someone who picked this book up due to an interested in well-developed and researched true crime stories, I was disappointed. Lysiak managed to catch my interest though when it comes to the debates surrounding the horrors, and made me want to look for academic and professional accounts that have been written about the events at Sandy Hook.

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