That’s Not What Happened is a powerful and relevant YA novel about the aftermath of a school shooting. Lee is one of the survivors of the Virgil County High School Massacre, but her best friend Sarah was killed. The story is famous: Sarah died with a cross necklace, proclaiming her faith. But Lee knows that this isn’t the truth, and she realises that she wants to set the record straight. As she talks to her fellow survivors, she sees that everyone saw different things on that day and maybe telling the truth isn’t as simple as it sounds.
It isn’t difficult to tell that this is a hard-hitting novel that looks at trauma and how people react to traumatic events differently, as well as how a small town might deal with a terrible event. That’s Not What Happened is also a story about characters: a diverse group of people and their lives, not only in relation to the shooting. There is also a fair amount of emphasis on their stories before the shooting, showing how the media image is often slanted or wrong. An important element of the novel is the fact that it never names the shooter, in contrast to real life media reports which often fixate on the personal details of the shooter. As Lee points out in her first person narrative, people often focus on the shooter, particularly those who become obsessed with the events. By resolutely making the focus on the survivors and the victims, Keplinger challenges this, focusing on how the stories of the people caught up in the tragedy aren’t always as simple as the media presents them.
This is a novel that represents a school shooting and the PTSD and other issues caused by surviving one in a powerful way, but also in a way that focuses on people and their lives and quirks. It is another young adult book that actively engages with the modern world, touching not only on the major topics around the shooting, but also on alcohol abuse, sexuality, disability, and family issues.