Discussion of "We Need to Talk about Kevin"

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How do you rate We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver?

1 star - poor, recommend against reading it
2 stars - okay, fair
3 stars- good, recommend it
4 stars - excellent, amazing
Total votes: 22

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Discussion of "We Need to Talk about Kevin"

Post by Scott »

Please use this topic to discuss the February 2012 book of the month, We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Please wait to read this topic until you have finished the book because this topic will contain spoilers.

What do you think of the book? Do you recommend it to others?

I found the character of Kevin's mother to be refreshingly original. Of course, we really get to know her through her first-person narrating of the events in her life with her own commentary. What I like is how sympathetic we as the reader become to her even though she is not portrayed simply as some one-dimensional good guy character but is actually rough and hard to digest. I find a lot of very good and very bad portrayals of parents in fiction, but those are overly simplistic in my opinion compared to the more realistically complex, ambivalent portrayal of Kevin's mother. What do you think?

Kevin on the hand wasn't my favorite villain to say the least. He was in a lot of ways to unrealistic and too simplistically 'evil'. The idea that he was just born that way doesn't intrigue me. Even if someone is born a psychopath, I like to think that you wouldn't see it right away and the way they are raised would still heavily determine whether or not they become a mass-murderer or just your some random cutthroat business executive. In any case, I don't find simple psychopaths to be interesting villains, but would prefer more complex villains who no matter how horrible they seem you feel have some complicated motivations that make them sympathetic in some way (e.g. why Darth Vader is a better villain than the Emperor in dramatic terms).

Anyway, I will comment in more detail later. In the meantime, I want to know what everyone else has to say about this book.
"That virtue we appreciate is as much ours as another's. We see so much only as we possess." - Henry David Thoreau

"Non ignara mali miseris succurrere disco." Virgil, The Aeneid

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Post by Tralala »

I want to read this one, but I'm worried that I'll find it disturbing. I tend to take kiddo-related stuff a little too seriously. For instance, I read Rosemary's Baby (for the first time) when my daughter was an infant. She was taking a nap when I finished it, and I ran into her room and felt her head...to make sure she didn't have horns. Really.
How perfectly goddamned delightful it all is, to be sure.

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Post by RuqeeD »

Before reading this book I had a lot of preconceived notions and really set in my ways judgement about the whole issue of nature vs nurture, the influence of the parent and most importantly (but perhaps not fairly) how I would view a parent in the way they feel about their kid. I say it's not exactly fair since I have no idea what it's like to be a parent so I really shouldn't have the kind of harsh judgements I have and I do recognise that but sometimes you can't help but just give out these quick fire judgements without knowing the reality of the situation and especially with the kind of distant one would have.

So already knowing a bit about the book before I started reading, I already had the notion it was all the mother's (Eva) fault, she didn't love her child and what kind of mother is that etc. And I don't think it's exactly the best way to start a book which you know will hit upon contentious issues to have a set mindset because it's hard to open yourself to what it is telling you. But...what could I do :roll:

The whole debate about nature vs nurture, I think cannot be effectively argued as being entirely one or the other. Kevin did not have a loving mother and grows up in a society that showcases violence and often glorifies the perpetrator. However, this shouldn’t excuse what Kevin did. I’m of the thought that believes no matter how you've been raised up, the choice to commit an act such as shooting a group of your fellow students and a teacher is still your own choice and your upbringing should not be a reason for it. That has always griped me, the whole 'I went on a killing rampage because I had a tough childhood' really just :x but I digress (sorry, I feel like that might happen a lot during this so just bear with me if you can :D)

At the same time, can someone really be born evil? In that I agree with you Scott, it doesn’t gel with me and that was something that I disliked the fact that the author seemed to drive that point home more than anything else.
And to the point of how much Eva is, and should be held accountable? I did find that yes Eva was quite detestable, her feelings towards her own child shocked me and made me feel uneasy. Often, throughout her recounting of Kevin, I feel that she had already casted him as wrong from a very early stage before he even had a chance to prove or disprove it thereby blinding herself to anything he did as being nothing but wrong. Her feelings towards Celia, I think pinpoints this. She doesn’t find Celia’s shortcomings, her constant clinginess as detestable (the very things in Kevin she couldn’t stand) and not only can she tolerate her but she can love her which makes her culpable in her mistreatment of Kevin but does not make her culpable of his actions.

The whole issue of the shooting really is I believe just the background to the real issue of Kevin and Eva. At first, I was disappointed because I thought the book would focus on the very real issue of shootings in school, perhaps embark on the easiness of a teenager being able to get a gun and shoot up his classmates leading to the whole right to bare arms in America and all that which is central to the whole problem but as the book progressed I began to appreciate that this is very focused on one incident, on one family and that again the shooting is just the podium leading to the stage (if that makes any sense at all!)

Although the revelation towards the end of the story is hardly surprising that both Franklin and Celia are dead by Kevin’s hand, I did start to feel that Eva definitely did not deserve what Kevin put her through even whilst I felt that how could she hate him so much. It really pulls you in different directions.

The very last part of the book surprised me though because I just did not see that coming. I did not think Eva would be able to open her heart for him by promising he would have a home with her when he got out. It made me feel cheated of my perception of her and actually made me question myself about her perception towards Kevin and her character as a mother and my whole preconceived notions about parenthood which again goes to show you never really know until you experience it for yourself.

I did enjoy this book. It was deeply harrowing, depressing but also touching and it opened my eyes anyway so I’d say it did its job. :D Anyway thanks for reading this very long review and kudos to you who made it to the end :wink:

Has anyone watched the movie? I tried to watch it but didn’t last 30 minutes. I felt like it was too disjointed and erratic and I couldn’t get into it.

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Post by glenda-r »

Wow, RuqueeD. Great observations. I just finished this book about 15 minutes ago. I will comment on it later after I let it sink in and collect my thoughts. I will say that I was very affected by this book. Being an adopted only child I have strong feelings about the "nature vs. nurture" argument.

I'll be in touch.

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Post by cantstopreading »

I have started reading "We Need to Talk About Kevin". It's not something i would usually read, but I'm surprised to find that I am in fact enjoying it. I love the fact that it's closely related to the nature verses nuture debate because I'm a sociology student. And it seems that your trying to decided whether it is the parents fault for his behaviour, because of the way he was raised, or if it is something Psychological rather than sociological. But I'm thinking it might be a combination of two. But in the end all I really want to know I what drove "Kevin" to kill his class mates, teacher and a cafiteria worker. How must his parents have treated him for him to feel the need to kill all those people. It's also interesting to see how, the family were treated after he went on his killing rampage.

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Post by terrisbooks »

I am reading "we need to talk about Kevin", and I am having a hard time finishing it. i only have a hundred or so pages to go, but I can feel what's coming. I thought the book was interesting in the beginning. We never think about what happens to the parents of these children. We all have a tendency to say, what kind of home life did he have. That said as a mother of four, not quite perfect children, I find some of the book hard to swallow.
Is any one else having a hard time with this?

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Post by Doyag »

terrisbooks wrote:I am reading "we need to talk about Kevin", and I am having a hard time finishing it. i only have a hundred or so pages to go, but I can feel what's coming. I thought the book was interesting in the beginning. We never think about what happens to the parents of these children. We all have a tendency to say, what kind of home life did he have. That said as a mother of four, not quite perfect children, I find some of the book hard to swallow.
Is any one else having a hard time with this?
I'm struggling to finish it as well. I'm still half way through though. I'm not really enjoying it and i'm starting to wonder why i'm even bothering to read it.
I got a lot of comments encouraging me to finish it as it has a good ending.

-- 05 Feb 2012, 03:53 --

I have not finished the book and i somehow gave up.
But from what I've read, i can say that i have actually met someone like Eva.
The woman's hatred for her kids (she had five by the way) started when she realized that they have disrupted her life.
She can not do the things she has once used to do. she loved being social (parties, gatherings..etc)
but no, her kids did not turn sociopath or anything. :) but i do know they resent her somehow, they have a similar relationship as that of Eva and Kevin, where Kevin always found ways to annoy Eva, and dislikes everything she does, even when he was just a six year old.
This woman had finally sent her kids abroad to study. even before finishing high school. and she lives all alone in the big house, entertaining people and being entertained. her kids come to visit on holidays where they also spent most of it outing with their friends.

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Post by lucythornton »

Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son became, she questions her role as a mother and her relationship with Kevin in particular. How much is her fault? When did it all start to go wrong? Or was it, in fact, ever ‘right’ at all?

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Post by Tstarnes »

I am in the same place as a couple of other people who posted, I am having a lot of trouble finishing the book. The writing isn't bad really, I think its cause I am a parent and am having trouble dealing with the content.

I can say its unlikely I will get to the end? I see several people have finished it...is it really worth fighting my way through the book for the ending?

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Post by ilovebooks2 »

I read this book a couple of years ago so I don't remember all the details of the plot. I do, however, remember that I had no difficulty reading or finishing it, even though I was apprehensive at the start because of the subject matter and length. It maintained my interest throughout. I highly recommend this book. 5 Stars.

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Post by Sadmag »

Even though the book had disturbing content, I enjoyed reading it. When a parent has a child that has behavior issues I do believe it might be difficult for the parent to be nurturing and caring after an amount of time. Having children in a classroom with severe behavior problems can be so tiring and exhausting I can only imagine how a parent must feel - having to deal with that 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

Being a teacher, I know it is difficult for some parents to accept that their child has severe problems.

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Post by wingshockeygal »

I haven't read any of the reviews posted here yet as I'm not done with the book. I had to wait through a substantial waiting list to get it as an ebook from the library. I just started it last night.

What a difficult book to read! Shriver has pulled me and I'm "enjoying" it so far, but it's such a difficult subject.

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Post by terrisbooks »

Still having a hard time with the book. I picked it up again the other day and attempted to read it again. Some parts of this book just plain disturb me.
I think more than anything the author is showing us what is happening to our family structure. There is way to much emphasis these days on keeping children happy. I raised four and it did not take me long to figure out that they were not always going to be "happy". So many families and I know the one in the book have no support system. There did not seem to be one person in Eva's life that she felt she could really discuss Kevin, or even be a support system.
That all being said, I still think I would have sought help for me and or the child, way before the lewd acts in the bathroom. That what has me stopped now.

This is just so hard for me, my husband and I did not always see eye to eye either, but he would have never tolerated my sons to disrespect me in my own home.

It is going to take me awhile to pick it up again, if ever. I know that is suppose to be a goal of some authors to evoke a strong response but I just think it may have gone a little far.

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Post by smurphy- »

I have not been this captivated by a book in years. I just got it a few days ago and have read until practically blind every night. I'm sorry to see that some were have difficulty getting through it. I would honestly say that if you're having trouble with it, don't continue. It's only going to get worse. But you know, every time I've read about one of these horrific school shootings and seen the crying parents outside of the school on the news I've thought that it would be much worse to be the parents of the murderer than the parents of the victims (not that either scenario wouldn't drive me to insanity).

I think my obsession with this book was grounded in the same question that characters in the book continually ask, "Why?" And I was just as grateful as Eva at the end when Kevin told her that he used to think he knew but now wasn't sure. Even though I knew from the beginning what would happen in the end with Franklin and Celia, I hoped like hell I wasn't right and was still mortified when it was revealed. That was the only point at which I was loathe to go on but I was still hoping for an answer and in the end I wasn't dissappointed. At least, there seemed to be some sort of remorse.

As far as the nature vs. nurture question, I think a murderer can emerge from either. Kevin was nasty from the beginning but may have been redeemed through counseling or SOMETHING (apparently kiddie prison may have done him some good)if Franklin hadn't constantly made excuses for him and provided that bizarre all-American boy facade for Kevin to live in (at least while he was in his presence). Personally, I would have taken that angelic little girl and moved to Brussels to get away from that freak show. If nothing else "We Need to Talk about Kevin" will defintely give you a new appreciation for your average bratty child.

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Post by wingshockeygal »

I finished this book over the weekend. I rated it three stars, but I'm not sure I can really give a review. I'm simply not sure how I feel about the whole thing. I gave it three stars because it definitely drew me in and made me think. I go back and forth about how I feel toward Eva, Kevin and Franklin.

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