Book Review: “A Mother’s Reckoning”

I was in seventh grade when two students at Columbine High School shot their classmates. I was in my 20s when I read Dave Cullen’s Columbine; Cullen explained almost everything reported about the shooters was wrong and Eric Harris was a sociopath who convinced his friend Dylan Klebold to assist him in his lethal plan. Since then, I have been intrigued by the story of these two boys who were sadly the first of many, many school shootings.

Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, published an essay about her son in Oprah a few years ago but has mostly stayed out of the public eye for the past 17 years. Until a couple months ago, when she released A Mother’s Reckoning. Partly a biography of Dylan and her family, partly the story of dealing with her son’s actions, and also her reasoning why the shootings occur and her activism since.

Klebold has said that she understands why people blame her for her son’s actions and acknowledges she would feel the same way. Naturally, the story of Dylan’s upbringing seem normal — there were no guns in the home, neither of her sons displayed any violent tendencies, Klebold and her husband were “good parents” by most measures.

The saddest parts of the book were excerpts from Klebold’s journals following the shootings. Her immediate confusion, shock after seeing Dylan’s journals and his behavior in violent tapes made before his death, and attempts to return to work and her previous life.

Klebold’s activism centers around when she calls “brain health.” She explains mental health can seem abstract to some and the word brain better illustrates the physical component of depression. Dylan’s journals, beginning years before the shooting, describe his deep depression and plans for suicide.

Klebold describes her years since her son died as a quest to understand his actions. After speaking with many doctors, she concludes that part of the answer lies in Dylan’s suicidal thoughts. If Dylan did not want to commit suicide, he would not have participated in murder-suicide. Dylan’s vulnerability proved him susceptible to going along with Eric Harris’s plans. Harris tried to convince other friends to join him; Dylan was the only one to say yes. A murder-suicide seemed the only way Dylan could commit suicide. His journals show numerous vows to commit suicide only to abandon plans at the last minute.

Though Klebold touches on Harris’s diagnosis of sociopathy, she refrains (for privacy or legal reasons) to dwell on it. As a reader, I believe the book suffers for this omission. Harris and Klebold worked together and the tragedy would not have occurred without both.

Sue Klebold has thrown herself into suicide prevention efforts, channeling her grief into preventing other suicides. She again touches upon a few meetings with the parents of children who committed murder-suicides but only briefly. She also touches on psychiatrists posthumously diagnosing Dylan with other brain disorders that may have contributed to his participation in the murder.

I cannot imagine the intensity of Sue Klebold’s pain. She believes her grief contributed to her diagnosis of breast cancer as she meets other grieving mothers similarly affected. She and her husband are divorced and neither her other son or husband supported her writing this book.

I wish Klebold had written more about the murderous plot of Columbine. She rightly has not focused on gun legislation as journals and tapes prove the boys objective was to blow up the school using homemade bombs that thankfully did not detonate. An 18 year old friend legally purchased the guns.

Other reviews of the book have focused on admiring Klebold’s courage in simply surviving and her activism and have shied away from any criticism. For more insight into the specifics of the shootings, the boys’ mindsets, and the police investigation, I recommend reading Cullen’s exhaustively researched book.

The real story of A Mother’s Reckoning was the pain Klebold caused his family through his actions. His mother seems to suffer enormously every day. I think the book will be comforting to others who have been touched directly by suicide and will help parents recognize warning signs in their children, but those seeking more information about the shootings and their impact on modern culture should look elsewhere.

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