Book Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver


Rating: 5 / 5

Eva never really wanted to be a mother, and is now spending the rest of her life wondering if her antipathy towards motherhood is the root cause of her son Kevin’s problems.  Two years ago, Kevin locked some of his high school classmates in the school gym and killed them along with a cafeteria worker and one of his teachers.  Although documentaries have aired, and numerous psychologists have weighed in, the fact is that no one knows why Kevin went on a horrible rampage.  Eva, however, wonders whether this is truly surprising.  Ever since Kevin was born, she could feel that something was different about him.  He did not interact or socially develop like toddlers his age, and neighbors and acquaintances were weary about Kevin’s behavior.  As Kevin grew older, his behavior problems persisted, and morphed into longer term issues.  Eva found little solace in her husband and Kevin’s father, Franklin, since Franklin had the tendency to overlook all of Kevin’s problems, easily chalking it up to little boys growing up or Eva’s indifference to being a parent.  We Need to Talk About Kevin is Eva’s letters to Franklin, where she looks back at her life, and explains to Franklin her point of view and what she’s learned about herself after becoming a mother.

Lionel Shriver is a phenomenal author.  We Need to Talk About Kevin is a tour de force, both harrowing, moving, and endlessly thought-provoking.  Her prose is beautiful and will immediately captivate readers.  The entire book is Eva’s correspondence to her absent husband.  Each letter is divided into two periods.  The first part are her observations and thoughts in current time, which is usually right before and after she visits Kevin at the Claverack correctional facility.  The second part is Eva’s recounting of the past, starting from her decision to get pregnant, throughout Kevin’s childhood, up the tragic massacre.

Mentally, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a trying  and utterly disturbing read.  While it is compelling, there are no bright spots or happy endings.  Eva understands very early on that Kevin will be a challenging child to raise, and instead of presenting a united front, Franklin has taken the opposing side, constantly making excuses for Kevin, or refusing to come to terms with Kevin’s true nature.  We Need to Talk About Kevin is dark and mind-blowing.  Added to the complexity is the fact that the novel is told solely from Eva’s point of view.  All events are recounted from her perspective, so whether or not Kevin has always been horrible is a matter of how believable the reader finds Eva.  As he has admitted to the Gladstone High School killings, his guilt has been soundly established, but is his attitude and personality innate, or did Eva’s indifference toward motherhood affect his disposition?

Everyone needs to read and talk about Kevin.  Shriver’s novel digs into familial relationships, and poses the question of how well parents really know their children, how much they influence their children’s attitudes and outcomes.  We Need to Talk About Kevin is a must read.

Other books by Lionel Shriver:
Big Brother

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