Since the Parkland, Fla., shooting on Feb. 14, thousands of students across America have begun to find their voices. I’ve found mine, too. I had struggled with depression and felt like I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be. This year I helped organize the walkout at my high school and the middle schools in my town in Massachusetts. About 2,000 Lexington students walked out (on March 15 — March 14 was a snow day), and then 20 of us walked a mile through the snow to rally on the historic Battle Green where the American Revolutionary War began in 1775.
In “#NeverAgain: A New Generation Draws the Line,” siblings David and Lauren Hogg share their experiences of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 and the events that followed. The book alternates between Lauren’s and David’s perspectives and is both a memoir and a guide to activism. Their courage and dedication helped inspire March for Our lives, the national student-led movement to take action beyond offering “thoughts and prayers” and end gun violence in America.
The story of MSD has been splashed across the headlines ever since, and many have asked, what makes this part of the fight against gun violence different? I think it’s because the surviving students have spoken from their hearts, describing the pain and fear they endured and demanding that their friends don’t become yet another statistic. In contrast, the media often focus on the numbers and the politics and don’t personalize the story of how survivors are affected. What’s missing is empathy.
Reading and listening to the perspectives of Lauren and David, who were 14 and 17 at the time, allow the reader to feel as though these authors are having an involved and honest conversation with them. It’s more than tweets and soundbites; these pages reveal young leaders as human.
The point of #NeverAgain is not to focus on one school shooting. It’s a call to action against the public health crisis of gun violence in America. David addresses underrepresented communities that have fought the same fight for much longer and barely receive any media coverage. He points to the inequality when students at a largely white suburban school get months of media attention because of their socioeconomic class: “We’re super glad people are listening to us, but we’re not the story.”
Lauren describes being wrapped in grief and the first days after the shooting, when she lost four friends: Gina Montalto, Jaime Guttenberg, Alaina Petty and Alyssa Alhadeff. The authors make a point to name the victims of previous shootings, who are not listed as statistics.
Later, she realizes, “I can’t go back in the past. I’m going to miss my friends” – people remembered with passions, hopes, ambitions and loved ones – “but crying isn’t doing anything.”
Once she and her classmates – plus students around the country – took action, it was incredible that within a couple of weeks posting on Facebook grew into people writing speeches, making signs and registering to vote. We became part of the movement. Our new revolution.
When it sunk in that I had made a difference, I finally felt happy with my life.
Finding something that you are passionate about can make you feel more fulfilled and accomplished. Lauren realized that there was potential for growth in grief, and reflected on this, saying, “I realize it was the best thing I could have done. Just to go out and try to make change, it’s so therapeutic.”
Although there will always be some loss in our lives, it’s admirable to take our sadness and find strength in it. I respect that people, especially teens my age, can cope with pain in such a meaningful way. I cannot imagine the pain that any gun violence victim has experienced, and despite this, I believe that everyone should be able to stand up for this cause.
Throughout these past months, I’ve seen the way that teens have been able to speak up and be heard. Regardless of your age, you can educate yourself on topics that you care about and truly make a difference.
Books have always been a powerful tool for discussion and change. This book, like others addressing current events, would be beneficial for students in late middle school and high school. I’ve read numerous books in English class about injustice, but those were fiction. “#NeverAgain” explores the subject of gun violence in a way that is honest and genuine. By reading it, students can learn about social issues from their peers.
In fact, I’m recommending “#NeverAgain” as a conversation starter for book groups or student clubs. My organization, LexingtonSays#Enough, holds Living Room Conversation meetings with people who have differing views and experiences. For our next conversation on gun violence prevention, I think we should all read this book.
Gun violence is not a political issue, it’s a public safety issue, and “#NeverAgain” is both a reference to the Holocaust and also a demand for change. In the words of David Hogg, “there really weren’t any better words to describe our goal: We never wanted this to happen again.”
Weinberg is a high school junior in Lexington, Mass. A co-founder of LexingtonSays#Enough, she is an advocate for gun violence prevention and mental health.
David Hogg and Lauren Hogg
Random House: 176 pp., $10 paper