Friday, February 22, 2019

"Parkland" by Dave Cullen

Ten years ago (!) this summer, I read "Columbine" by Dave Cullen, the definitive account of the school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado (which happened 10 years before that, in April 1999).  Whether or not true crime stories are your kind of reading, it's an amazing book (with some perceptive insights on grief, loss & the long-lasting effects of trauma), and I have recommended it highly to many people in the years since then.

(Sadly, I have a cousin who still can't bring herself to read it -- she was an elementary school teacher in a small town in the U.S. that was affected by a shooting at the local high school in 2005. It wasn't her school, but nevertheless she & her students were on lockdown, and she knew everyone involved.  The subject matter is still way too close to home for her.)

After reading "Columbine," I reviewed it on my blog, here -- and was floored when Dave Cullen himself popped by to comment (and then commented again on a follow-up post I wrote). (As I noted at the time, stuff like this never or rarely happened, pre-Internet...!)

I've been following Dave on social media ever since then. Unfortunately, his accumulated subject matter expertise has made him the media's go-to guy whenever there's a major mass shooting event in the States (which, sadly, is far, FAR too often). He developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) himself, post-Columbine, and as he found himself commenting on mass shooting after mass shooting in Columbine's wake, he despaired that nothing was ever going to change.

And then came Parkland.

Dave immediately noticed something different in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine's Day 2018.  The day after Columbine, the survivors were like zombies, shellshocked. These kids in Florida were MAD.  And they were demanding action.

Before long, they were taking action themselves: within days, they were (successfully) lobbying the Florida state legislature to demand changes to gun control laws;  within weeks, they had organized a march on Washington (the March for Our Lives) that attracted 470,000 people, and up to 2.1 million in almost 800 "sibling" marches on all 7 continents.  Meanwhile, they also began networking with other kids from across the country, and spent the summer on a cross-country bus tour, building a movement. Their efforts to register young voters and elect candidates who share their quest for sensible gun control laws had a tangible impact on the 2018 mid-term elections.

While both "Columbine" and "Parkland" are about school shootings and what happened afterwards, and both books have a similar cover design, there are some important differences. "Columbine" was 10 years in the making, and delves heavily into the story of the two killers, what motivated them, how they planned and carried out the shooting, and how investigators gradually unravelled what really happened (versus the myths that sprang up almost immediately), as well as the stories of the victims and the survivors.

"Parkland" arrived in bookstores almost one year to the day after the MSD shootings. The events of February 14, 2018, are dispensed with in just a few pages;  the killer is not named and is barely mentioned.  The focus of the story is on what happened next:  a fly-on-the-wall view of a year in the life of a group of motivated, media-savvy teenaged survivors, and how they came together to build a movement for change.

It's a story of hope.

I really enjoyed "Parkland" and found it hard to put down (and I can say & mean "enjoyed" in a way that I couldn't about "Columbine," if you know what I mean... although there are some parts where you may want to have some kleenex handy...!). The "Notes on Sources" at the end are among the most readable I've ever seen, and add further insight and information.

I gave this book four stars on Goodreads.

The story of the Parkland kids and the March for Our Lives continues. I would love to get Dave's perspective on them (and the further great things I am sure they will accomplish) in another 10 years... but I don't think anyone would blame the guy if he wanted to move on to other subjects. ;)  He's been following the story of two gay soldiers for the past 20 years, and interrupted his work on a book about them to follow the Parkland story. He's hoping to finally complete that other book later this year.  I am looking forward to reading it, too!

This was book #6 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 25% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 3 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)


  1. I am pretty sure I read a really interesting article by him in the Guardian recently where he said the media bore some responsibility for the gun crisis because of the way they'd covered Columbine (by focusing on the shooters and highlighting their narrative they encouraged others to follow). It was a sobering read, but he was saying that the Parkland survivors have succeeded in flipping the narrative and keeping the focus on them in a way that hadn't been done before. And that made him hopeful for the possibility of real change.

  2. You just sent me down the rabbit-hole reading your previous posts. Pretty awesome that the author commented.

    Yes, what I love about this is that these kids are MAD. As well they might be. Anger might achieve something, because being sad didn't. And that indeed is hopeful.

    They are all inspiring. (I recently saw a Fbk meme that compared David Hogg (I think that's his name) and all his activism and principles with the kid from the Catholic school who is suing the Washington Post for slander (I think) after the Lincoln Memorial incident.)

    But oh, the image of that poster on the cover ...

  3. I remember the day Columbine happened. I shocked all of us given school shootings weren’t suppose to happen. Fast forward 2 decades and shootings have become a common theme in the news. It’s become a new normal as gun lobbyists have too much control over our political leaders.

    Which is why the survivors of Parkland are modern day heroes. I’m not surprised they are mad because I’m as angry as they are. What sets them apart is that the mobilized and took actions all the adults had failed to do. They made sure the focus wasn’t solely on the shooter, drawing attention to all those who make accessing guns insanely easy in the US. They brouggt attention those who have profited and set out to replace those in the political establishment who weren’t going to do anything to change the status quo. Frankly, I look forward to the day these survivors start running for elected office.

    Thanks for the review. I hope Dave Cullen comments here too.

  4. Thanks again! Glad you like it, and thanks much for reviewing it. :) .

    1. Thanks for commenting, Dave! :) Hope you are enjoying your book tour.

    2. Thanks. It's exhausting--(still doing a lot of interviews and writing piece in between events)--but great, too.

  5. That's so cool that the author weighed in -- twice! Looks like I need to read Columbine, as it happened in my school district. I've got a hold on it at the library.

    1. That one can be tough, but 20 years' distance, now. I bet it will fill in a lot of pieces. (That's what I tend to hear from survivors.)

      "Parkland" is FAR more upbeat.