Book Review: A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

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Rating: B/ Reading A Mother’s Reckoning, I was reminded of a line in the novel Little Children by Tom Perrotta where May, the mother of a middle-aged child molester, knows on some level that her son is a monster, but she finds that she cannot flip the switch in her mind and stop loving him. Books don’t get more ripped from the headlines than this memoir by Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters at Columbine. As everybody who doesn’t live under a rock knows already, Columbine was one of the first large scale and highly publicized school shootings in the U.S.

People can remember where they were when they first heard about the carnage and how shocked they felt that something like that could happen in a school environment. Since then, school shootings have become almost commonplace. They do not carry the emotional heft that they once did, except, of course, for the people who are caught in their crossfire. Of all the people who were caught off guard by Columbine, no one was more shocked than Dylan’s own mother. Sue Klebold writes about her horror and anguish over the massacre her son participated in, and how people all over the country saw her as hugely responsible for her son’s depraved actions.

Klebold writes about a side of her son the media didn’t portray, but she by no means justifies his actions. A Mother’s Reckoning is about how her son’s shattering act of violence tore her family apart and changed her life forever. It is definitely not an easy read, and I skipped out on it for a couple of days because I was feeling very depressed in general and didn’t feel up to reading it. This is a book about the worst thing that can happen to a parent. Many people say that losing a child is the worst thing, but I think losing a child to a murder-suicide is possibly even worse. Not only do you have to reconcile with the waste of your child’s life, you have to deal with the fact that they took other people’s lives as well.

My complaint with this book is that I found it very repetitive at times. I think it could have used a better editor to trim some of the fat. For the most part Klebold’s memoir managed not to be dry, even when she discussed topics like mental health and media violence excessively. But at times I felt like Sue Klebold repeated a statement thirty or forty times that was essentially the same every time. Take, for example, her discussing being in denial about her son’s actions; she describes herself as being in denial countless times to the point that her account becomes somewhat frustrating to read.

I appreciate that that Klebold does not name-call or point fingers in her attempt to understand the massacre; overall she’s very fair-minded. I did find her to be biased at times; for instance, she talks quite a bit about her son being bullied at school but mentions the allegation that her son and his friend and fellow spree killer, Eric Harris, bullied a boy with special needs so badly that he was afraid to go to school only in passing, as if it’s not really worth mentioning.

She also seems to really want to believe that Eric was the far worse one in the duo. I get that, it’s normal to justify the actions of those you love to some extent. It wasn’t the bias that bothered me about this book as much as the repetition. Overall it’s a well-written book; the writing isn’t mind-blowing by any means, but it’s sure to be fascinating to people with an interest in abnormal and child psychology. Klebold articulates herself well and draws inspiration from a number of well-researched and interesting sources.

A Mother’s Reckoning shows how extreme tragedy can drive a person to find answers and help others, and it discusses her participation in social activism as well as her struggle to overcome debilitating grief and PTSD in the days following the shooting. I don’t see Klebold as making excuses for herself, although I suspect a lot of people will see it that way. Her book is a reminder than seriously psychologically disturbed people do not necessarily come from deprived and abusive upbringings.

I know it challenged my prejudices about the kind of people who raise psychopaths. I’m still a big believer of nurture over nature and the power of a person’s background, but reading this book, I can see that not all people who grow up to commit terrible acts were raised by terrible parents. This book obviously has heartbreaking subject matter, but it’s also educational to people who want to know about the psychology behind mass shooters.

There are a lot of unanswered questions, which is obvious considering Sue Klebold had no idea what her son was planning. I got the impression of the book telling only half the real story. The missing piece, of course, was what Dylan was thinking at the time, but his journal entries have a strangely cryptic, almost word salad quality. I could have picked a better time when I was not suffering from depression to take this on, but overall I’m glad I bought the book and read it. I did feel it was a flawed account, but I also thought it was worth the effort to read.

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