Book Review | A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

A Mother's Reckoning Sue Klebold Memoir Book Review

“It may be too late for the ones we have lost, but it may not be too late to save others.” – page 254

Hi friends! It’s been a while since I’ve properly reviewed something on this blog, eh? I needed to take a bit of a break from reviewing as reading was feeling a bit like homework for a while there — I was reading on a (self-imposed) deadline and constantly analyzing every word and articulating my feelings as I was reading. I mean, that’s not really a bad thing to do generally, but when I start feeling obligated to do it is when I personally need to take a break.

That said, I’ve been reading some really, really good books lately. I keep catching myself mentioning two titles in particular and Sue Klebold’s A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy is one of them. (The other title is also a non-fiction title, which is shocking for me!)

I picked this book up out of curiosity. I knew that this would be a difficult read, but I really didn’t know what to expect. What I found within the pages was not only a heartbreaking recount of Sue Klebold’s experience before and after her son participated in the Columbine shooting, but also something very valuable: a lesson to be learned. To Sue Klebold, and, indeed, many people in her community, Dylan Klebold was just a regular teenager. He could be shy in social situations and moody when reminded to do a chore, but that was seen as common teenage behaviour. Nobody saw the tragedy coming. Sue Klebold reiterates this throughout the book — “He seemed so normal” — when, she admits, the heartbreaking fact of the matter is that the family had misinterpreted many of the warning signs of Dylan’s depression and brain disorder. While he seemed like a regular teenager on the outside, Klebold later learns via his journal that he was suicidal – probably a big reason why he participated in the Columbine shooting in 1999.

Here’s where I’ll admit that I’m fascinated (and slightly terrified) that no one was able to pick up on Dylan’s depression. I’ve often wondered how many of my peers are suffering silently, and whether I would be perceptive enough to notice when someone needs help. In the forward to the book, Andrew Soloman writes that the spotlight was shone on the shooters’ parents in the aftermath of the tragedy because the community — and, really, the world — needed a way to rationalize what had happened. We want to believe that this could have been prevented if only the parents had done something differently. But, as Klebold writes, she was an attentive parent; she did love her child; up until the shooting she thought she was doing a pretty good job of parenting. The one thing she mentions often is that the signs that seemed so insignificant at the time, signs that she thought were just normal teenage behaviour, actually added up to one big arrow pointing to depression. If perhaps she had known to look out for these signs, maybe she would have been able to understand Dylan more before his death. (This revelation is one of the big reasons why Klebold wrote the book, as noted in the quote above.) And so I sometimes think: am I missing anything in my daily life? Can I be more attentive towards the people around me? Even if I might never experience anything as extreme as what Sue Klebold went through, it makes me wonder if I could help someone get through a rough patch by asking more questions or if it’s truly impossible to get someone to open up when they are deliberately hiding their pain from you.

Either way, it surprised me how much I appreciated reading Klebold honest writing. She bravely shares her experience as accurately and openly as possible. She tells the reader what she’s learned about spotting signs of brain illness, reflects on her mistakes, and works to spread awareness about suicide prevention. She also takes the opportunity to apologize to her son’s victims. Overall, this book was a difficult read, but I think it’s one that can help spread empathy and understanding to those who do read it. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Have you read A Mother’s Reckoning? What were your thoughts on the book?

10 thoughts on “Book Review | A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

  1. Naomi says:

    I agree that the fascinating thing is that the parents didn’t know. And I believe that they didn’t. As a mother I find that truly terrifying. All we can do is our best, but what if that’s still not good enough?

    • Karen says:

      Exactly. It’s very unnerving to think that your best might not be enough. But we can only try our best and learn to watch for signs as we go.

  2. The Paperback Princess says:

    I haven’t read this one and I wasn’t planning on it – I have a hard time reading about events like this. It sometimes feels like capitalizing on tragedy. But my curiosity got the best of me and I ended up reading a few pages when I was in Chapters. Those few pages were so beautifully written, there was such compassion, such pain in those few pages – I know I will be reading this book at some point.

    I do think that if you ask questions, people will open up. They have to feel like you are a safe person to confide in, that you won’t judge them. It sounds like you got a lot of out this book so I wouldn’t be surprised if someone does start talking to you.

    Finally – two non fiction books?! Who ARE you!?

    • Karen says:

      Oh my gosh, Eva, I don’t even recognize myself!! (Very stunned about this enjoying — dare I say loving — nonfiction business.) But then again, you’ve been reading a lot of CanLit 😉

      I worry about capitalizing on tragedy too, but on the back cover I saw that she is donating the profits of the book to charities devoted to mental health issues, so I feel like she genuinely wrote the book from a good place. I’d be interested to hear what you think of it though. (Andrew Soloman’s forward reminded me of your review of Far From the Tree which reminded me that I wanted to read it soon!)

      • The Paperback Princess says:

        Andrew Solomon interviewed Sue for that book! And I think they developed a genuine connection from that. I won’t like – seeing that he did the Foreword really did make me stop and read those few pages.
        I see what you mean – it’s like we switched minds!

  3. Lisa @ Reading, Writing, and Random Musings says:

    I finished reading this one a few weeks ago, and I agree that it is a very powerful read. One of the other big takeaways is that we should never judge another person or circumstance. I cannot even begin to imagine the life of any members of this family in the many years since the Columbine tragedy.

    • Karen says:

      Yes, I think that reading in general has taught me to be more empathetic and non-judgmental. I’m not perfect yet, but I think that there definitely are multiple sides to a story and that things aren’t always as black and white as they seem. I can’t even begin to imagine what life would be like after going through something like this. Glad to hear that you found it as powerful a read as I did!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s