Sober Review: That’s Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger

that's not what happened

Minda’s sober review of That’s Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger


It’s been three years since the Virgil County High School Massacre. Three years since my best friend, Sarah, was killed in a bathroom stall during the mass shooting. Everyone knows Sarah’s story–that she died proclaiming her faith. 

But it’s not true. 

I know because I was with her when she died. I didn’t say anything then, and people got hurt because of it. Now Sarah’s parents are publishing a book about her, so this might be my last chance to set the record straight . . . but I’m not the only survivor with a story to tell about what did–and didn’t–happen that day. 

Except Sarah’s martyrdom is important to a lot of people, people who don’t take kindly to what I’m trying to do. And the more I learn, the less certain I am about what’s right. I don’t know what will be worse: the guilt of staying silent or the consequences of speaking up . . .

Synopsis from Goodreads

What I drank prior: Just water.

Spoiler-free Overview: “I don’t remember a time when I truly believed school was safe.”

It is the third anniversary of the Virgil County High School Massacre that left six witnesses to the school shooting alive and having to cope with what they experienced. One of the students, Lee, is grappling with how it is remembered as she approaches her graduation, especially her friend Sarah who died in the shooting. A rumor about how Sarah died has turned her into a martyr and Lee struggles with whether to tell the truth of how she died and correct her legacy. In her pursuit of the truth, she uncovers the stories of the other five remaining survivors in the process.

Spoiler-free Thoughts: I wouldn’t quite say this was an enjoyable read, but it does deal with some deep issues. Obviously this is a very important topic, as evidenced by the rapid rise of school shootings and increased focus on security and active shooter drills in schools. I have not personally been through an active shooter situation, but my heart breaks every time one occurs (far too often). That’s one reason I’m glad I picked up this book, admittedly at BookCon 2018.

I feel that the author addressed this topic in a very good way. I particularly appreciated:

  • The focus on the victims and survivors, not on the shooter. They didn’t use his name or give any description of him.
  • The asexual representation seemed right and it didn’t fall flat
  • Just addressing this topic in general
  • All the voices felt real to me
  • The realness of the victim descriptions. People can be people with flaws and still not deserve to die

Characters: All the characters felt very real to me, though I couldn’t tell you the one that resonated with me the most. They were all processing the tragedy in their own ways. Outside the survivors, I thought Lee’s mom was particularly interesting because of her relationship with her daughter and how it has changed post-shooting.

Plot: The plot follows Lee as she makes her decision to share her story—and consequently Sarah’s—as she tries to sort out what happened that day with the fellow survivors. She asks them all to write letters with their stories and runs into varying road blocks along the way depending on their different views of what telling the truth would really mean.

World Building: The author did a good job of describing what life is like in a rural area/small town. The religious fervor rang true to me, and how a town would react to such a terrible tragedy.

Writing Style: The letters from the other survivors was a good way to add other perspectives/voices to a first person perspective. I liked that everyone got their own distinct voice.

—SPOILERS Don’t read! Or do, live your life—

The best part to me was that Kellie got to control the story in the end. In this hypothetical scenario, I’m glad she decided to share the stories.

As mentioned above, I thought the asexual storyline and relationship between Lee and Miles was very well done.

End Spoilers—

What to pair it with: A stiff beverage like whiskey or just water.

Rating: 4/5 shots

xxxo Minda

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