Poetry Friday: Roald Dahl
Sunday Afternoon Visits: September 17, 2006

Endgame: Nancy Garden

Endgame is a very risky book. Author Nancy Garden tells the story of the events leading up to a fatal high school school shooting from the (fictional) perspective of the shooter. Fourteen-year-old Gray Wilton isn't a happy guy. His hunting-obsessed father doesn't understand him and yells at him all the time. Gray is small, and not good at sports, and he gets picked on at school. He moves to a new town, and tries to fit in, but bullies find him there, too. He has few friends, and not a whole lot of success with girls. And from there, things get much worse. The bullies, and his father, commit abuse after abuse, destroying his heart and soul. Eventually, pushed to the brink, he commits a violent act.

Endgame is Gray's story as told to his lawyer from the juvenile detection facility after the event. We don't know details of the event at first, but we know that it's serious, and that he calls himself, among other things, a murderer. Hearing his story helps us to understand what led him to the terrible decision to bring a gun to school.

Although this is a fictional account, it carries strong echoes of what we've read about kids who commit these heinous acts. Gray is a social outcast, bullied by the popular athletes, with a domineering father, and ready access to a gun. What's fairly clear, however, is that Gray's response to the situation is a combination of his own innate characteristics and the circumstances that govern in his life. He has an uncontrollable temper, a complete inability to feel empathy for anyone, and low self-esteem. His friend Ross suffers the same abuse at school (though with a more benign family situation), and does NOT respond by committing violence.

There is plenty of blame to go around here. Gray's father can't accept him for who he is, and constantly badgers him to be different. His father also teaches him how to use a gun, makes a gun available, and gives Gray the impression that manly men go around shooting guns. Gray's mother knows how sensitive he is, and knows how important music is to him, but doesn't stand up to his father to support him.

The school also bears some accountability. The kids who bully Gray and Ross are revered student athletes, put on a pedestal by students and teachers alike. Even when teachers and administrators observe the abuse, they have a "boys will be boys" attitude, and allow the situation to continue. There are some lessons here for schools, should they choose to hear them.

But Gray does have people who try to help him, mostly his older brother Peter and Peter's girlfriend Lindsay. A counselor from school, a couple of teachers, and his mother also try to help. And he pushes them all away, wallowing in his own pit of depression.

I found this book compelling, but depressing. The message seems to be that some people, if pushed hard enough, will snap, and that the people in their lives won't be able to help them. It would be nice if the book gave more of an idea of what, if anything, could have prevented the shooting. In Gray's case, it seems like the one thing that might have saved him was his love for music, and his talent with the drums, but in the end it wasn't not enough. I also found Gray's lack of remorse for the shooting, and his lack of empathy for the people affected, truly chilling. I was frustrated by the fact that that reaching rock bottom and committing such a terrible crime still didn't really reach him.

So, I don't know if this is a good book or not. On the one hand, it's a window into what might be going on in the minds of the outcasts, the kids who are hazed and marginalized in our high schools. And if we understand them, maybe we can reach them, and keep future school shootings from happening. On the other hand, Endgame is a bleak portrayal of a bleak situation. Gray's lack of remorse makes me concerned about how other persecuted kids will react to the book. So, if you're looking to better understand what might push a kid to commit a violent act, I recommend this book. But if you don't want to go there, and you want to give it a pass, I certainly understand.

Book: Endgame
Author: Nancy Garden
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Original Publication Date: March 2006
Pages: 304
Age Range: 14 and up