A Book Review of “A Mother’s Reckoning” by the Mother of a Columbine Shooter

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know that at the end of every year I write a post listing and discussing the books I have read during the year. Originally, I had planned to review every book I read throughout the year but realized that is a daunting task because I read so much. However, occasionally there is a book that I believe deserves its own review. For today, this book is A Mother’s Reckoning, written by the mother of one of the Columbine High School shooters.

A few weeks before I started reading A Mother’s Reckoning, I asked my Instagram followers what the last book was that made them uncomfortable. I was in the middle of Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, and I was cringing at some of the imagery he was painting (which was EXTREMELY risqué when it was written and then promptly banned in 1934). Tropic of Cancer made me uncomfortable, yes, but it was a discomfort stemming from my Christian upbringing. When a follower (and friend) said A Mother’s Reckoning made her uncomfortable, I looked into the topic and immediately said, “I can’t read this.” As a mother of a white male child in school, I didn’t want to expose myself to such a horrid event. And then I sat with that opinion for a bit before I realized that A Mother’s Reckoning is exactly the book I NEED to read as the mother of a white male child in school, and how privileged I was to simply cast off the idea of reading it simply because I would be uncomfortable. So I read it. And I was, and still am, extremely bothered.

The Columbine shooting happened in 1999, and the name Columbine is synonymous with the terror that America experiences with every school shooting. This was the “first” public mass shooting in American history (if you don’t count the University of Texas shooting in 1966), and it was the first publicly televised shooting. I was nine when Columbine happened, and I remember it vaguely. I remember the news playing the same scenes repeatedly, and events were rehashed for months. This book was written by the mother of Dylan, the tall and awkward looking boy who was a part of a two-man team that killed 13 people before he killed himself. There were plans to kill over 600 people (there were poorly made bombs that didn’t detonate). He was 17.

I am bothered by this book for many reasons:

1) Dylan was raised in a normal manner, precisely how I raise my son, with family game nights and trips and reading books and lots of cuddling and love. This part of the book didn’t seem like the mom was making excuses. It seems like she truly raised her son the way the majority of us try to raise our kids. It is easy to think that such a monster was created out of abuse or neglect, but the writer’s portrayal of their home life is shockingly…normal… which is what is terrifying. What are we doing wrong (see #2)?

2) Dylan’s parents were blind to any sort of mental anguish Dylan was experiencing. I am furious that they were so emotionally unaware that they did not understand what depression is like. In her words, “I thought depression was having a blue couple of days. I did not know how all-encompassing it was until after the massacre when I experienced it for myself” [sic]. The fact that people exist out there who do not understand depression because their emotional intelligence is so low makes me terrified for their children who may experience depression. At any time she could have been slightly more aware or in tune with her son’s state, but she assumed that her happy-go-lucky simplistic approach to life is how everyone experienced life.

3) I imagined my child in every scene in the book, as the shooter and as a victim. Both made me sick.

What I feel is a tone of explanation and pleading for acceptance and movement towards helping the mentally ill comes off as making excuses for her son’s murders. I can understand her desire to claim that her son was “a good kid” but good children, even those in such mental pain as Dylan, do not plan to murder hundreds of people. There is no other way to say it. I understand that she is mourning the loss of her golden-haired happy child, I do get that as a mother of my own golden-haired happy boy, but every human has been a child, including Hitler. Should we discount Hitler’s murders because he used to cuddle up next to his mother? Every human makes decisions that affect others, and this particular “child” chose to murder people. Everyone is the accumulation of their actions, and we as parents must accept that we can love our children without loving all of their actions and choices. Luckily, the writer didn’t defend his actions, but she did defend his person. I find it hard to separate a person from his actions when they are so negatively impactful to hundreds of people. She can love Dylan and remember him as her boy. That is her right as a mother, and my heart breaks for her. But Dylan was not a good person, and no claim of how mentally ill he was can change that fact. He lost the ability to be a good person when he walked onto that campus and began shooting.

She hardly mentioned the other teenager, Eric, who essentially groomed Dylan’s depression into the perfect vessel for murder. She didn’t mention ever speaking to Eric’s parents, literally the only other people who could possibly understand what the writer and her husband were going through. I wonder if this was for legal reasons, or for a lack of wanting to publically blame what seems like the truly psychotic mastermind of the entire operation. She seems to insinuate that Eric is psychotic and her child simply was caught up and scared of Eric, but her son also pulled the trigger multiple times.

I appreciate the book for providing a perspective I never thought of before (and hope to God I never experience for myself). I never thought about the parents and how they didn’t know anything other than that a shooting occurred for hours and hours because they were placed in isolation by the police. I never thought about the fact they wouldn’t know the details of the investigation until months later, so there were months of clinging to the hope that it was all a misunderstanding and that their son was tricked or coerced. I never had to consider how I would react to the cross of the shooter being placed next to the cross of his victims.

I am still coming to terms with what I learned and felt while reading A Mother’s Reckoning. I strongly suggest that every parent and any person who wishes to challenge their ability to be empathetic read this book.