Book Review: If We Had Known

Mass shootings – even the seemingly nonsensical ones – have become all too common. It’s something that needs to be addressed across all avenues – policy, psychological studies, even fiction. Juska’s novel looks at the ripple effect of one such shooting for various members of a community.

Maggie is a professor at a community college in Maine and devoted to her students. She may be old school in her methods, but she takes pride in connecting with the freshman in her intro class and getting them to open up in their writing. In August, someone opens fire at a mall, murdering several people. It soon comes to light that the shooter was a fifth year student at the school. Immediately, Maggie remembers having taught him 4 years prior.

Meanwhile, another former student deals with the trauma by flippantly posting on Facebook to escape his own guilt and forget the boredom of living in a small town with few friends. His post goes viral and soon the entire community questions whether Maggie should have seen signs that pointed to the student’s “imbalance”. As the events unravel, so does Maggie’s daughter, Anna, who quietly spirals in the wake of the tragedy.

Juska does not attempt to say what should be done. As a fiction writer, she’s not qualified to make such assumptions. However, she does examine the nuanced ways people can be rattled by an event like this. We’re still figuring out right and wrong in these situations and even hindsight isn’t 20/20.

4 out of 5 stars.