That’s Not What Happened

Everything is not what it seems

This past summer I read approximately 20 books. That’s Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger is now one of my all time favorites. This novel is based on a true story and keeps you glued to every page. In 1999, the Columbine shooting took the world by shock and left America heartbroken. Keplinger does a phenomenal job of telling a story of one of the victims and how the media and word of mouth has an impact on the legacies that people leave behind. 

Leanne Bauer is finishing up her last year as a student at Virgil County High School where a mass shooting happened three years prior, leaving nine students deceased, one of which was her best friend, Sarah. Sarah died being a martyr for her faith, allegedly, but sometimes the truth isn’t always what it seems. As the years have passed, Leanne wrestles with the fact that the way Sarah allegedly died does not align with what actually happened that day in the school bathroom. Now Sarah’s parents are working on publishing a book about Sarah and the legacy she has accidentally left behind. Telling the truth is a little more difficult whenever the nation is clinging to the hope that Sarah’s story brought. If Leanne tells the truth, will she even be believed? As Leanne and the other survivors are applying to colleges, their story of survival is brought back into the light, leading Leanne to become interested in hearing the stories of all six survivors in the friend group. While they all led completely separate lives prior to the tragedy, as we can imagine, whenever the unthinkable happens, it brings people together in a way only those involved can understand. 

One of my favorite choices Keplinger made when writing this novel is deciding to not use the name of the shooter at any point in the book. In the real world, the media gives endless attention to those who bring suffering to others solely for the purpose of gaining recognition. While the outcome of the situation will remain the same, not giving credit to the one responsible for the damage is the victim’s way of taking back some authority. The book is written as a letter from Leanne and includes the letters written by the others who faced a completely life-altering experience that day. In the book and in real life, the truth is that someone else died professing their faith, not who the media attached the story to. This leaves the girl who actually spoke about her religion hesitant and even resistant to tell her side of the story after being accused of lying and trying to steal the spotlight from someone who never even earned it. 

If you have never been involved in a school shooting, it is hard to imagine the aftermath and what that looks like on an everyday basis or even on an anniversary date. Keplinger does a fantastic job of making you feel emotionally connected to the story and the characters in it. 

One interesting character in the story is a boy named Denny. Denny is a classmate and close friend of Leanne, he is also blind and African American which really adds to the story and makes you sympathize with his character. Going through a traumatic event like a school shooter is a nightmare to all of us, but imagine being completely blind and enduring that terror. 

Each character throughout the story has a unique background and experience from that day, but it is heartwarming to see that good things can come out of the worst imaginable circumstances. This book also puts into perspective not only what everyday life looks like for the survivors, but what it looks like as family members, community members and a nation. 

Overall, this book is one of my all time favorites. This novel is informative, entertaining and brings light to subjects that are hard to talk about, but we are all too familiar with. I would rate this book a 10 out of 10.

That’s Not What Happened paints a picture of what it is actually like to live through such a traumatic event and how you can never be the same after. While this book was not written as an account of people’s exact stories from the Columbine shooting, the stories feel very real and personal and the concept of the book aligns with real events that took place during the tragedy that happened in 1999. Although this book isn’t historically accurate, I believe it is a fantastic way to get people interested and tell a story that is true in some ways. I found myself researching the actual story after reading this book. I am very impressed by Keplinger’s ability to tell stories while still honoring those who were lost at Columbine. This is a great read and I highly encourage everyone to give this book a try.