Alan Gibbons writes big stories aimed at the teenage reader and he fills them full of ‘issues’ – racism, homophobia, domestic violence, terrorism. Gibbons cares about these things and he wants his readers to care just as much. But he also wants his readers to have fun – he’s not beyond the odd spooky tale or stories about his much beloved sport of football. Gibbons used to be a teacher – probably a pretty good one I would think – and he knows that he has to make even the hardest lessons accessible and compelling. He does just that with this story of unaccountable, blind hatred. Hate is based on the events surrounding the death of Sophie Lancaster who was murder for the crime of choosing to look different. Sophie and her boyfriend liked to dress as Goths most of the time but they just enjoyed looking different all of the time; and for this they were singled out by a group of teenage boys and battered mercilessly. Sophie died in the attack. Gibbons, who spoke at length to Sophie’s mother before publishing the book, is at pains to say that this is not Sophie’s story retold in fiction. It is, however, a story that gets it’s impetus and meaning from that attack and which sets its action after the death of a young woman called Rosie – like Sophie attacked and killed in a park just for looking different. But the focus of the tale Gibbons has to tell is subtle and different because it centres on the aftermath of Rosie’s death and the terrible price people pay for the meaningless, violent assault. At the centre of the book is Rosie’s shattered family – Eve, her sister, her mother and the now estranged father. Eve’s best friend at school , Jess and her gay brother Oli, who have also witnessed the effects of the tragedy are themselves caught in a web of hatred unleashed on them by Oli’s coming-out. Perhaps the most surprising element in the novel is the inclusion of Anthony, a socially inept young man, who witnessed the beating to death of Rosie but is unable to face up to and recognise his culpability in not acting to try and prevent the death. Unwittingly, the education authority sends Anthony, who with his mother is on the run from his mother’s violent boyfriend, to the same school as Eve and Jess. The result is the unrolling of an inevitable flood of hatred, self-hate and remorse. Anthony’s guilt over his inability to act to stop the first killing results in him seeking redemption through an act of bravery in defence of Oli who is attacked by homophobic thugs intent on serious harm. We are tempted to think the author is setting us up for a happy ending but the reader is not given an easy way out. Despite his efforts to protect Oli, Anthony will not find forgiveness and salvation from Eve and Gibbons forces us to face the real world in which there are no happy endings attached to hate crime. Anthony must live all his life with the consequences of his inability to do the right thing when it was needed just as Eve will have to live the rest of her life with the bitter knowledge of her sisters death. I said at the beginning that Gibbons writes big stories for teenage readers but it would be more truthful to say that he just writes big stories which can be read by anyone. Hate is a story full of bewilderment and not the least of that is the bewilderment felt by the author who simply cannot explain or comprehend why someone should be so singled out simply for the way they look or make sense of the casual violence that ended her life. This isn’t the story of Sophie Lancaster but it certainly is a remarkable memorial to her memory.
Terry Potter – November 2014