A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, by Sue Klebold

Eight stars

Out of the worst tragedies there surely sprouts some specks light and hope. That seems to be the premise of this book and makes it the ideal choice for the buddy with whom I chose to read this. Pain and suffering seems to envelop people, but there are many more feelings and emotions that layer themselves within the larger narrative of grief. Sue Klebold has the insurmountable task of penning this piece and trying not to get lost in the accusations surrounding the pall left by her son. Dylan Klebold was one of the Columbine High School shooters, a murder spree whose infamy only grew in the months after events, once much of the evidence and backstory emerged. Sue Klebold seeks not to want to gloss over events or spend the entire book seeking pity from the reader, but to offer her own perspective of events and how she was blindsided by many of the narrative from April 20, 1999. The early chapters offer a cogent narrative of the events of the day and the period that followed, a time in which Sue and her husband, Tom, were crippled with doubt and guilt for what Dylan had done. Searching for answers, both in their own lives and that of their younger son, the Klebolds faced vilification over something they said they could not have predicted. As the book progresses, Klebold takes the reader back in time to depict Dylan as a loving boy who was extremely helpful and loving. However, with the power of hindsight, Klebold could see what might have been warning signs of the smallest order. Throughout, Klebold offers the argument that Dylan was a follower and that Eric Harris, his long-time friend and the other Columbine shooter, was the leader of this sadistic act. This is not to toss all the blame onto Harris, but Klebold posits throughout that her son’s less aggressive nature surfaced in journal entries, recorded messages, and in footage of the actual school shooting. Addressing teen suicide and the inner turmoil that Dylan faced, Sue is blunt in her message to parents: do not ignore anything that seems out of place. Beneath the surface of any teenager’s emotional expressions can be found torrential angst and calls for help. Had Sue and Tom Klebold delved deeper into Dylan’s life as soon as they can issues, would Columbine have been averted? There is no way to tell and while media outlets seem to bask in finding a whipping boy, finger pointing serves no fruitful purpose. A powerful book that does offer insight, angst, pain, and confusion in all forms, Klebold is to be applauded for coming out and speaking about these hard issues in a frank manner. While it would be crass to choose any reading group that might ‘like’ this book, its insightful nature might prove useful to those who remember the Columbine shooting as they wrestle to better understand the chaos of that day.

After reading a stellar book on Columbine, many of my friends asked if I would consider reading Sue Klebold’s biography/memoir to offer another interesting perspective. I will be the first to admit, I was hesitant. I did not want a sob story that bemoaned how the world had painted her with the same brush as her son, or that Dylan was the victim here, a youth that slipped through the cracks. Additionally, I expected a ‘we wash our hands of this as we could not have known’ piece. I could not have been more off base. Klebold takes responsibility as any parent would, but does not allow Dylan off scot-free for what he did. Klebold draws on all aspects of her life with Dylan: childhood, lead-up to the Columbine event, and her solo suffering with a son she never knew in the aftermath. Layered not only with poignant topics, but also some succinct diary excerpts to weigh-in on the discussion, the book flows wonderfully as it dissects some of the areas related to Dylan and the shooting. The blindside of what Dylan was going through, as well as the hindsight realisation that the signs were actually there shows Klebold at her most vulnerable. She pulls no punches in lashing out at those who seek to pummel her with the guilt of the event, but is also compassionate enough to realise that her presence might be too much for some parents to handle. While many of the books on school shootings focus on the terror and the victims, Klebold posits that the list of victims is exponentially larger, left to include those members of the perpetrators’ families that did not see it coming. I was left loving the frankness of this book, but also hating it, as I cannot shake those sickening feeling in my stomach that left me asking, “Could this be Neo? Will I ever know if he is struggling and about to topple into this abyss?” I am sick with worry, admittedly, but I also know that I can only do so much. I must send my son to school, unaware if there will be a school shooting, just as I can only hope that I will foster an open and honest relationship with my son to ensure that I see any signs. Klebold has left me with that hope and for that I am eternally grateful.

Kudos, Madam Klebold for touching on so many important issues within this book. While I struggled with some of it, more because of my personal fears, I loved how open and honest you could be with all of it. I admire your strength and determination to get in front of all this.