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The Amazon Book Review
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About the Author
S. Walden used to teach English before making the best decision of her life by becoming a full-time writer. She lives in Georgia with her very supportive husband who prefers physics textbooks over fiction and has a difficult time understanding why her characters must have personality flaws. She is wary of small children, so she has a Westie instead. She is the USA Today bestselling author of Going Under. When she's not writing, she's thinking about it. She loves her fans and loves to hear from them. Email her at email@example.com and follow her twitter feed at @swaldenauthor.
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If you've read Ms. Walden's books before, you may have run across one or two that were somewhat controversial. You may be wondering why she'd take on a topic like a school shooting. I don't know, exactly, but I'd guess because these characters came to her and asked to be heard; and because she is brave and honest, so if a story needs to told, she tells it, no matter what. So, you can go into this with your own prejudices, political views, and biases, but you should be prepared to feel them slip away from you without your control.
I can honestly say that I didn't want to love Jeremy. I didn't even want to like him. I was afraid of him, afraid of what he could do; and I was afraid of what my deep affection for him said about me. Who loves a killer? Who loves someone who has such a deep desire to do harm to others? But here's the thing: Jeremy has no more capacity for vengeance and hate than the rest of us. Don't we all hold a dark and secret space that we keep a lid on? How many of us would admit to our ugliest thoughts, even when they were fleeting, heat-of-the-moment ideas with no chance of being brought to life? The lucky thing is that most of us will never have our darkness nourished by a life of anger and abuse, and so we go on in our sun-filled, good fortune unable to imagine how anyone could actually carry out their worst thoughts, how they could do harm to others. We are fortunate.
In spite of my reluctance, I gave up the ghost of non-attachment, and decided to believe the best, to hold onto hope. I took hold of Regan's hand, our young heroine, and I decided, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, to take a risk on Jeremy. And it was a risk because, until just before this horrific event unfolded, I really wasn't sure which way he'd go.
Jeremy has not led a happy life. He's older than the majority of his classmates because he was held back a year once upon a time. His father is an abusive, alcoholic, for whom I hold very little sympathy, who has left young Jeremy with a very noticeable physical scar on his face (you know, because he didn't have enough psychological and emotional scars). This scar, along with Jeremy's tendency to hang back from his peers, earns him the attention of his class bullies (although there's one in particular, that middle school/high school pack mentality prevails). So, the two places that Jeremy spends the most time, home and school, are both physically and emotionally abusive environments. His one little ray of sunshine is Regan, a free-spirited middle schooler. That ray starts to fade, though, as they all transition to high school, and Jeremy watches her slowly conform to the popular group of kids. The good news is that there is hope!
You see, Regan really is a bit of a rebel. She's not a cigarette-smoking, curfew-breaking rebel, though. Regan's got a great family who cares about her and supports her, so she has a foundation strong enough to support a change. She transitions, not into something new, but into the person she really is (and was). Regan's had her eye on Jeremy for a long time, and while she's never participated in actively bullying anyone (in fact, earlier she was a champion of the little guy), she begins to see that her eventual passive acceptance and her inability to admit to what's been going on right in front of her are just as bad. When she finds Jeremy's notebook detailing his plans for revenge, she finally makes her move and approaches him.
Here's where everything gets really interesting. What would you do? Would you do what you're "supposed" to do and turn him in? Or would you approach him, talk to him, try to gauge how serious his words really are? This journal is a detailed plan, mind you, not just angry rantings. The decision Regan makes is dangerous, and I can't say I'd recommend it, but it smacks true of a teenager. This is one of the many beauties of this story--it's believability. Ms. Walden's got her finger right on the pulse of this age group, and she writes them with honesty and so much compassion that I forgave all of their mistakes. They're just kids, and they are fumbling through these very adult situations and complex emotions. Maybe adults would get it "right," but the ability to see black and white has not yet been honed in these teenagers, and once you enter Jeremy and Regan's relationship, you may wish yours had never developed either. It's not easy living on the edge of innocence and an ugly reality, but Ms. Walden's characters, especially Regan, do it with so much honest vulnerability that I dare you to judge them.
Jeremy's push and pull is heartbreaking, though that word fails to really say how deeply Jeremy tore at me. I didn't blame him, and I felt unable to judge him. He's just a kid, of legal "adult" age or not, and he is completely out of his depth. He's known nothing but fear, anger, sadness and loneliness most of his life; then a few people come and offer something new: compassion, kindness, generosity, and love. The question is this: Are those things strong enough to fight that darkness? Have they come too late? Jeremy's darkness is a constant; it surrounds him. So, how can these new, small sparks overcome a lifetime of negatives? I had hope before, even listening in on Jeremy's every thought, because that's who I am--I hope for the best--but I had no idea if the good would eventually outweigh the bad.
Some people may read the description of this book and think Ms. Walden has a political statement to make, but I would argue with that idea. Sure, politicians continue to try to politicize love, but it's not political. This book is about the power of love, compassion and kindness. It's about taking care of your fellow humans and treating people right, and it's about all the ways, in ignorance and in growing and learning, that we do so much harm. It's about power, abuse of power, and about trying to keep it. It's about control and weakness and fear; but, in the end, I maintain that it's about those small sparks of light and how deeply they can penetrate. It is possible for someone who has never known love or hope to catch a glimpse and start to believe it exists.
Right up until the end of the book, Jeremy struggles (and often loses) to control his emotions, especially the negative ones, but his persistence in holding onto the good renewed something inside of me, something that gets kicked around on a daily basis in reading the news, etc. Jeremy gave me hope that even small acts of kindness can make a difference.
The whole story is told with such a feeling of immediacy. I'm always impressed by this author's ability to keep the reader so tightly tied to the action and emotion of each scene. So many stories are told exclusively in first person, that when I run into an omniscient narrator, I really pay attention. Ms. Walden excels in this brand of storytelling, in my opinion, and she has such a talent for expressing the thoughts and emotions of each character in each scene, even while they swirl around each other, mixing and overlapping. She puts the reader in the room, absorbing the energy right through their skin. We should all be paying attention. Kudos to her!
My verdict: You should read this book. Don't let the subject matter put you off. Instead, embrace what you fear, hold it tight, and let it change you. Let Jeremy and Regan fumble their way into to your world and shine some light. My hope is that, when you've finished this book, you'll shine that light onto someone else and watch it grow. Who knows what difference your light might make.
I look to books for an escape, those minutes, hours, days that I can put real life issues on the backburner and get lost in someone else's drama, their romance, their struggles, their truth. I think the gravity of Interim might be too much for some readers to take. But I'm a reader that can separate fact from fiction, reality from storytelling and I did that with Interim. I can do that because it feels better to feel pain and loss and fear for fictional characters in fictitious circumstances than it does to turn on the news and face the reality of it. It feels so good to get lost in pretend, even if that pretend makes you feel real, profound, painful emotions. I can close Interim and sigh with relief that, despite the pain and the violence and the gravity of this story, it wasn't real. Even though it is. I think for the sake of our love of fiction, of stories, we should be able to indulge in literary entertainment for a while, and respect that it's possible to cast aside our sensitivities, put our judgements on hold for a few moments, and take a story for what it is. Interim is that story. Every innate opinion has to be checked at the door with this story. It doesn't matter what you stand for, what you believe, how you classify right from wrong. This story will change that. It makes you see rightness in what's undeniably wrong. It demands that you contemplate excusing the wrongness of something that isn't right at all. It forced me to connect with a character, fall in love with a character, who is both right and wrong. It forced me to evaluate where my boundaries reside.
This story will have people talking, it'll spark controversy and fury. It will divide. It's a strange dichotomy what Walden has done with this story, canonizing a villain, vilifying a victim... Or did she? Jeremy Stahl is a victim of his circumstances, a victim to his father's abuse, victim to bullies at school, victim to his own confusion and emotions. So he plans to respond, to react, to defend against. I don't believe this was Walden's attempt to give a potential school shooter a free pass, or to say "hey, guys, come on, see things from this person's perspective." I think this was just a story that demanded to be told. A fictional account of one teenager's choices, their sense of powerlessness, their misguided longing to regain that control. And this is what happened. It's a fictitious perspective, but there's no denying that it's a perspective we're not often gleaned when we see these things happen in real life. I never once, however, took this as the authors attempt to make a statement about school shootings, about bullying, about gun violence. In fact, I believe she did a fantastic job of demonstrating the spectrum of opinions on all subjects with her widely diverse characters and their very vocal opinions. I believe, at the end of the day, that was the point, to remind us how different we all are, how differently we all deal with loss, pain, abuse, and words in general. How people change and grow in different ways, how we each choose a different path. And how we are all connected. Our words, our actions, our courtesy and consideration or lack thereof, the way we choose to live, all of it effects others. We never know how even one word can change the path of someone else's life.
Brandon and Jeremy's father both serve a pivotal purpose in this story, their characters demonstrating the insecurity and doubt, the fear and shame that ultimately served as the foundation for their bullying and abuse of Jeremy. Their inability to deal with their own insecurities and fears in a healthy way leads them to victimize and knock down other people in an attempt at making themselves feel more than. In Jeremy's fathers case, it's his loss and pain mixed with alcohol. In Brandon's, his inability to compartmentalize his childhood weight issues. It's sad and pathetic and frustrating and wrong, yet it's precisely what is at the root of any bully's pattern of behavior. Shame, self-loathing, insecurity, misplaced anger. The more they each come to hate themselves, the more they long to release those pent up aggressions on someone else. It's a vicious cycle but what Walden does with these characters is paramount to this story. Through flashbacks, we're gleaned insight into the Brandon that once was, the uncertain boy struggling with his sense of self, Jeremy's father in those moments of doting father before suffering the loss of his wife. Jeremy's own battle between good and evil, victim and villain exhibits clearly that there's a little good in every bad, a little bad in every good. There's two sides to every coin and it's what one chooses to do with everything they're facing that determines which side lands face up.
Interim illustrates the gravity of words, how words can make or break, how those words build up a person or beat them down. How different Jeremy's life might have been had it been filled with more kindness, more compassion, more love and understanding. How different the trajectory of his life may have taken if there were more Roy's and Regan's in his life. Words can't be unspoken. Unheard. Unread. Words have power. To hurt. To break. To scare. To humiliate. To damage. Interim is a lesson in being wise with one's choices of words. You never know the power of your words, the pain they can inflict, the damage they can irrevocably cause.
This isn't a story about love conquering all. It's not a story about an unremarkable teenager changing the trajectory of another's tormented life with their love. This is about a broken, damaged, scarred soul, a decision to right the wrongs of a tortured past, no matter how misguided that decision might be, and the grim reality that nothing can change that decision. Of course, I longed for love to save the day. I hoped that this could be a story where all hearts were healed, all wounds scabbed over and forgotten, that all could be right with the world. But this isn't that story. S Walden isn't that author. This story would play out the way it was meant to.
I could talk for days and days about my love for Walden's writing. Crisp, clean, fluid, smart writing... raw, clever dialogue... melodic, flawless prose. S Walden is an outside-the-box author, consistently delivering stories that are nothing like the last. It's unfair to compare her books as they're all individual stories, original, refreshing, never been done before. But I'll go out on a limb here and say that Interim is most reminiscent of Going Under. Interim captures the uncertainty and brutality of adolescence, real life issues against the back drop of cafeteria lunches, buzzing hallways, and teenage hormones as Going Under did. But Interim veers in a drastically different direction, with the focus on a different form of bullying, and a charger seeking another sort of vengeance. If you think you don't want to read a story centered around high school students, you're wrong. Walden captures the voice of these teenagers perfectly, their naivete, their immaturity, their vulnerability. She consumes the reader with the raw reality of adolescence, of every emotional high and low, of the all-to-real fears and uncertainty that come along with this age. Interim isn't easy to read. It's brutal for an array of reasons, all of which you must read to understand. Be prepared. Be prepared to hurt. Be prepared to step outside your comfort zone. Be prepared for a profoundly unforgettable, turbulent journey through tragedy and love that you won't soon forget. I know I won't.
I know the subject matter in this story is daunting, and scary, and sensitive. But I hope readers give this story a chance. It's beautiful and painful and raw and difficult at times, but it's also brilliant and hopeful and romantic. I was worried I'd come away feeling a certain way, that this story would go to a place that it was impossible to come away feeling anything but sadness and regret. That's not the case. It's hauntingly devastating, but it's so much more than that. It's absolutely worth reading despite your fears and reservations. What Walden has done here, with Interim, is perfect.
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... but there's a hidden message beneath it and that alone makes it worth reading.