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We Need to Talk About Kevin: A Novel Paperback – May 4, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (May 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006072448X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060724481
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (817 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,207,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A number of fictional attempts have been made to portray what might lead a teenager to kill a number of schoolmates or teachers, Columbine style, but Shriver's is the most triumphantly accomplished by far. A gifted journalist as well as the author of seven novels, she brings to her story a keen understanding of the intricacies of marital and parental relationships as well as a narrative pace that is both compelling and thoughtful. Eva Khatchadourian is a smart, skeptical New Yorker whose impulsive marriage to Franklin, a much more conventional person, bears fruit, to her surprise and confessed disquiet, in baby Kevin. From the start Eva is ambivalent about him, never sure if she really wanted a child, and he is balefully hostile toward her; only good-old-boy Franklin, hoping for the best, manages to overlook his son's faults as he grows older, a largely silent, cynical, often malevolent child. The later birth of a sister who is his opposite in every way, deeply affectionate and fragile, does nothing to help, and Eva always suspects his role in an accident that befalls little Celia. The narrative, which leads with quickening and horrifying inevitability to the moment when Kevin massacres seven of his schoolmates and a teacher at his upstate New York high school, is told as a series of letters from Eva to an apparently estranged Franklin, after Kevin has been put in a prison for juvenile offenders. This seems a gimmicky way to tell the story, but is in fact surprisingly effective in its picture of an affectionate couple who are poles apart, and enables Shriver to pull off a huge and crushing shock far into her tale. It's a harrowing, psychologically astute, sometimes even darkly humorous novel, with a clear-eyed, hard-won ending and a tough-minded sense of the difficult, often painful human enterprise.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In a series of brutally introspective missives to her husband, Franklin, from whom she is separated, Eva tries to come to grips with the fact that their 17-year-old son, Kevin, has killed seven students and two adults... Guiltily she recalls how, as a successful writer, she was terrified of having a child. Was it for revenge, then, that from the moment of his birth Kevin was the archetypal difficult child, screaming for hours, refusing to nurse, driving away countless nannies, and intuitively learning to "divide and conquer" his parents? When their daughter, loving and patient Celia, is born, Eva feels vindicated; but as the gap between her view of Kevin as a "Machiavellian miscreant" and Franklin's efforts to explain away their son's aberrant behavior grows wider, they find themselves facing divorce. In crisply crafted sentences that cut to the bone of her feelings about motherhood, career, family, and what it is about American culture that produces child killers, Shriver yanks the reader back and forth between blame and empathy, retribution and forgiveness. Never letting up on the tension, Shriver ensures that, like Eva, the reader grapples with unhealed wounds. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Lionel Shriver is a novelist whose previous books include Orange Prize-winner We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Post-Birthday World, A Perfectly Good Family, Game Control, Double Fault, The Female of the Species, Checker and the Derailleurs, and Ordinary Decent Criminals.

She is widely published as a journalist, writing features, columns, op-eds, and book reviews for the Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the Economist, Marie Claire, and many other publications.

She is frequently interviewed on television, radio, and in print media. She lives in London and Brooklyn, NY.

Customer Reviews

This book was very well written and a gripping story.
Sandra M Harding
This book really was difficult to read because of the failures of the characters - but they are common failures too often found and seemingly little discussed.
John B. Grimes
It is hard to forget...it does not just go away when you put the book down.
Erin Secrist

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

356 of 376 people found the following review helpful By Jana L. Perskie HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"We Need To Talk About Kevin" is a disquieting, provocative, and brilliantly written novel about a mother, desperately attempting to understand why her son, 15-year-old Kevin, brutally, with premeditation, murdered seven of his fellow classmates, a cafeteria worker and his English teacher in a Columbine-style school massacre. There have been nationwide discussions on the cause of events like these - especially during the 1990s when it seemed like school shootings ran rampant throughout the US. In Pearl, Paducah, Springfield, Littleton, seemingly normal kids, kids who had almost everything a child could want, became terribly derailed. Some argue that the proliferation of and easy access to guns is the cause; others that the excess of violence in movies, TV programs and video games induce violent behavior in children and adolescents. The one question almost everyone seems to have in common is, "What were these murderous kids' parents like?" "Didn't they recognize symptoms of violence in their own children?"

Eva Khatchadourian, Kevin's bereft mother, narrates this novel through a series of compelling letters to her estranged husband, Franklin. She examines her son's life, from conception to his terrible act of violence, trying to understand the why of it. What becomes clear early on is that Eva tortures herself with blame. She is guilt-ridden that her shortcomings as a parent might have caused Kevin's evil act, his violent behavior, his very nature. She must have failed, she must have been deficient as a mother, for her boy to commit such a chilling crime. She also considers that neither nature nor nurture are solely responsible for shaping a child's character.
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97 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Erin Secrist on April 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book had my rapt attention for a weekend. I could not stop reading. While seeming a bit pretentious at first, the prose is consistent, sometimes beautiful, and definitely a part of the person we come to know as Eva Katchadourian. Once I became used to her style, it did not bother me; I understood it was Eva, not Lionel Shriver.

The characterization in this novel is excellent, particularly that of Eva. She is possibly the most complete character I've ever read. I was annoyed at her at times, and even bewildered at her reactions to certain situations. However, I always found Eva to be a sympathetic character. She makes many mistakes (and so did Franklin, her husband...he sometimes exhasperated me so much I wanted to throw the book!), which she admits to. Eva villifies Kevin when he is just an infant, which forms an ever-growing wedge between herself and Franklin. At the same time, it seems that she did what most normal, flawed people would do in her situation. Her letters let us know how much she loves Franklin still, despite the way he seemed to turn against her sometimes due to their disagreements about Kevin (Franklin never really accepts that Kevin could be the sociopath Eva suspects him to be).

Eva's story is disturbing, harrowing, and gripping. It is hard to forget...it does not just go away when you put the book down. This book affected me in a way that no book has before. It made me question whether I ever want to have a child. It gave me a nightmare. It even made me feel trepidatious about going back to the schools (I am a substitute teacher). It even, as another reviewer put it, "left a dent in my heart.
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181 of 201 people found the following review helpful By Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader on April 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most chilling and compulsively readable books I�ve opened in a long time. As you read Eva Khatchadourian�s letters to her estranged husband you think �this is what it must be like� for parents whose child has just murdered classmates and a popular teacher.
As Eva reveals in her letters, she knew something was wrong with Kevin from the moment of his birth when he turned away from her breast snarling and screaming. The anger does not wane, even though outwardly he was a passive, disinterested child. She blames her own mixed feelings toward him, but her beloved husband Franklin fiercely defends the boy whenever she asks why babysitters never come back for a second time and other families go great lengths to keep Kevin away from their own children. And Eva doesn�t like him. No matter how hard she tries--and she does try very hard, moving to the suburbs, staying home, none of which she wants to do�she does not like her son.
Since you know from the beginning that Kevin is in juvenile prison for killing his classmates, you might think that the suspense in the story will come from finding out how he planned his spree and carried it out. You would be very, very mistaken. Very late in �We Need to Talk About Kevin� Lionel Shriver introduces a twist that is completely unexpected and totally shocking. These are words too frequently used in describing thrillers which rarely deliver the unexpected or the shocking. Believe me, in this book, those words do not begin to describe the wallop Shriver packs in the last quarter of the novel.
I was unfamiliar with Lionel Shriver, and will (after a recovery period) look for her other novels. She digs fearlessly into the back of her characters� minds and the bottoms of their hearts. Read this book.
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