Death should never meet the young. But it did. Thanks to my brother, death made fourteen new friends that day. Maybe even fifteen, if you count Charlie.
At sixteen, Sam Macmillan is supposed to be thinking about girls, homework and his upcoming application to music college, not picking up the pieces after the school shooting that his brother Charlie committed.
Yet as Sam desperately tries to hang on to the memories he has of his brother, the media storm surrounding their family threatens to destroy everything. And Sam has to question all he thought he knew about life, death, right and wrong.
Dear Charlie was certainly an interesting book, as it dealt with a theme that I haven’t read much on before; I only know of two other books about school shootings, and of these have only read one. This book also deals with the aftermath left for the family, not with the events of the shooting itself, providing a different perspective to some other books out there.
One of the things I really enjoyed about Dear Charlie was the exceptional character development. Sam’s world was shattered by the shooting, and slowly over the course of the book, he had to relearn his opinions of his brother and his relationship with the wider world. Not only did he have to deal with grief at the loss of Charlie, but also with the judgements their family faced, and the way that coping with this affected his character was shown well across the book. In particular, I liked how he eventually got along with Dr Albreck, as I thought it really reflected his emotional journey. Other characters who showed excellent character arcs were his father – although this only became apparent at the end of the book – and Izzy, who was a character I found really interesting.
Izzy had a connection with Sam, but there were many obstacles looming in their way, and one of these was the false persona she had imposed on herself. I loved how at the end she learnt how to break free of this, and acted as herself for the first time in the novel. In fact, the ending was excellent in a number of ways, as there was also an incident in which Sam showed bravery, and demonstrated what he had learnt and how to respond to the challenges that he’d faced. Graduation showed how that this chapter of his life was closing, and he certainly seemed a more developed person by the end of the book.
Something I appreciated was how Sam was alive to the issues his brother had created – for example, he lit a candle on the anniversary of the shooting and put it in the window of their house. While there were many instances when he was very critical of Charlie and the problems he left for Sam and the rest of their family, there were also times when he remembered Charlie in a fonder light. Although this is probably a realistic interpretation of how a family member of a perpetrator may feel, I felt like the blurred view of Charlie could also be seen more negatively, as I felt that there weren’t that many instances where Sam connected with the victims of the shooting (although I acknowledge that this would have been difficult to include given that Sam was never received well when he did try to reach out).
Overall, I enjoyed Dear Charlie, and would recommend it to those who enjoy emotional books that cover important but heavy topics; the story was heartfelt, and the exploration of an area that personally I haven’t read much about was done sensitively, although I would have liked to have seen more of the other families affected by the shooting.