Review: If I Don’t Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings edited by Amye Archer and Loren Kleinman

Reviewed by Don Clark

If I Don’t Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings edited by Amye Archer and Loren Kleinman (Skyhorse, September 2019) is 400-plus pages of pain, devastation, and total loss.

But it’s also 400-plus pages of advocacy, love, and furious resolve.

I mean that.

The book is a collection of firsthand accounts of every mass school shooting in American history from Sant Fe in 2018, all the way back to the University of Texas at Austin in 1966. Each shooting gets its own chapter.

There are 21 chapters.

Cover of if i don't make it I love you - title over image of people gathered outside of school

There is no objective way to write a review about this collection. Not one. To compare one story to another is missing the point entirely. This is a collection of survivor stories dealing with what they experienced before, during, and after these terrible tragedies. Would you compare one death to another?

All the stories are well done. They are to the point, they don’t beat around any bush, and they bare all. I especially liked the different forms the stories took. The collection opens with social media posts from a mother of one of the victims of the 2018 Santé Fe High School shooting. 10 MURDERED. Fury, rage, grief, activism — more pain, more activism. She refuses to take it. She wants us to refuse to take it, too.

There are two small comic books in these pages. One for the 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, — 9 MURDERED — and one for the 1992 shooting at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington, Massachusetts. 2 MURDERED. Comics have a special way of conveying serious emotional attachment through their combination of imagery and words. These two comic-shorts hurt to read…hurt in a different way than the rest. They also inspired, just as every story in here does. There are pictures of the victims with their moms, their dads, their sons, and their daughters, their family; these pictures sucked the breath right out of me when coupled with the stories they belonged to. These were innocent people that belonged to someone, were beholden to someone, loved by someone, and they loved right back. All gone now, all gone….

And there are many, many incredible stories/essay/articles/whatever you want to call them from these survivors. First-hand accounts of friends dying, kids taking cover, children screaming, and the commotion and confusion accompanying these shootings. First-hand accounts from mothers and fathers who barely hold on anymore in the wake of the tragedies. First-hand accounts of teachers, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and small children being killed. I was stationed in Connecticut in 2012 at the time the Sandy Hook shooting – 6 ADULTS/20 LITTLE KIDS MURDERED. I’d been to war, but nothing I had ever gone through even comes close to what these survivors went/are still going through.

That is, unless my own kid is killed in a school shooting. That is, of course, what I thought about while reading this.

I had to put the book down several times because I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and because it felt so personal to be a part of these stories. I couldn’t take it for a while and had to stop reading. Then I picked the book back up and moved on. What the hell do I have to gripe about when these people lost the most precious things they could ever have in this life? The least we can do is share in their experience. That, alone, should be reason enough for you to purchase this collection.

Each chapter begins with where the shooting occurred, followed by a quick introductory note from one of the editors, and a black box with silver and gold letters that lists all the victims of the shooting, to include their age and what association they had with the school (student, teacher, and so forth).

If you buy this book, make it a point to read every single one of their names and offer whatever you have to give in their memory. I said a prayer for each one. It’s not much, really not much at all. But it is still something. I don’t have anything critical to say of the book, aside from…it would have been nice to get a list of all the organizations and websites that are devoted to stopping school and mass shootings in America right in the very front of the book. But, I only got to read the advanced promo copy us book-review geeks get, so hopefully, when it comes out to the masses, it will have such a list right up front. There are a lot of indispensable resources listed throughout the various stories that should be collected into one cohesive list.

I feel I know a little about these survivors now. I know about their deepest and darkest pit, and their biggest and strongest resolve; but most of all, I know the lives of their loved ones, and the life they shared. I call them all survivors and not victims because that’s what they call themselves.

The strength coming through these pages is a battering ram to the heart of America and to the heart of everyone who calls themselves American. It’s our problem, and the people in these pages will be leading the fight all the way. You can count on that. Do your part and share in their experience. We have to end these shootings somehow, someway. Maybe the end starts here. Pick up a copy of this book!

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