Challenging the Gun Epidemic: 7 Powerful Novels About Reform

Bringing Gun Violence Awareness to Bookstr, these authors use storytelling as a form of resistance and words to create positive social change.

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Trigger Warning: The content and the summaries of each book in this article discusses issues of gun violence, drug use, and mental health concerns, including but not limited to post-traumatic stress disorder. Because of the content, this material may be disturbing to some readers. Please read with caution.

Startling Statistics

As of Tuesday, May 30th, the 150th day of 2023, the United States had already witnessed 263 mass shootings—incidents with four or more people shot—with 327 victims killed. Both of these statistics are the highest ever recorded this early in a year. 

Out of the 263 mass shootings, at least 13 are associated with horrific tragedies taking place at K-12 schools. This includes the incident in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 27, where three students and three staff members were shot and killed at the Covenant School, a Christian school for students in preschool through sixth grade. Additional episodes of gun violence have taken place at higher education institutions, bars and nightclubs, and community festivals. In February, an active shooter claimed the lives of three at Michigan State University on the East Lansing campus. California alone saw three mass shootings in a matter of days in January.

Beyond the Numbers

In 2022, the Center for Disease Control released its data on 2020 U.S. gun deaths, revealing a stunning spike in gun violence. The numbers horrified the nation. Exacerbated by the social and economic effects of COVID, as well as the cuts on services devoted to preventing domestic violence and suicide, the CDC reported 45,222 gun deaths. Gun homicides spiked by 35%. United States citizens under the age of 30 are 10 times more likely to die via firearm than from COVID. And perhaps most startingly, gun violence has become the leading cause of death for children and teenagers. 

Although these statistics are startling and heartbreaking, the numbers and the solutions that seem increasingly hard to come by dull our senses. However, in our modern age, authors and advocates alike have equipped themselves with a new weapon to propose reform and promote change: their pens. In their arsenals, storytelling is their most powerful tool. 

In order to promote change and inspire advocacy, here are seven books that extend beyond the statistics. By telling the stories of victims of gun violence and offering a cathartic testament to America’s ability to overcome adversity, these authors explain how we got to this violent place. And, more importantly, how we might get out.

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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Teenager Starr Carter has always felt like she must walk a tightrope between her two worlds. During the day, she’s “Williamson” Starr, one of the few black high schoolers to attend her fancy suburban prep school. But as soon as she returns to the neighborhood she grew up in, she becomes “Garden Heights” Starr once again. Known for its poverty level, gang activity, and drug prevalence, Garden Heights is a neighborhood her school friends wouldn’t be caught dead in.

Upon entering her sixteenth year on earth, Starr is convinced she has the uneasy balance between her two lives figured out. On a fateful night after a party, Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer.

Khalil was unarmed, and Starr was the only witness.

It doesn’t take long for Khalil’s death to reach the national headlines. Some are calling him a thug, a drug dealer, or a gangbanger. But in Garden Heights, the people are rising up, banding together, and protesting in Khalil’s name. Everyone wants to know the answer to one question: what really happened that night? Only Starr can say. But will she give in to the forces who wish to intimidate her and her family? Or will she stand up and fight against police brutality and needless gun violence?

2. Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

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Hidden in a coat closet with his teacher and his first-grade classmates, Zach Taylor listens as an active gunman shoots bullets through the hallways of his elementary school. When it’s all over, nineteen are dead. And Zach’s ten-year-old brother, Andy, is one of the victims.

In Only Child, Rhiannon Navin makes the risky choice of narrating this modern tragedy through the eyes of a six-year-old adjusting to his new life as an only child. Originally, because Andy had oppositional defiant disorder and was routinely unkind to him, Zach wonders if his death will improve his family’s lives. But as Zach’s parents decide to take legal action against the shooter’s parents, holding them accountable for the deaths of nineteen children, every cherished ritual of Zach’s life is abandoned. His nights become filled with nightmares, and his days become filled with bursts of uncontrollable rage.

While Zach’s parents are preoccupied with their son who died rather than their son who lived, Zach must learn to cope on his own. He assigns colors to his feelings. He obsesses over the “secrets of happiness” in The Magic Treehouse series. But above all, he teaches the reader to learn empathy, kindness, and forgiveness through the eyes of a child.

3. If We Had Known by Elise Juska

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Single mother and English professor Maggie Daley is ready for the rest of her life. After eighteen years of preparing her only daughter, Anna, for the real world, Anna knows she’s equipped with the necessary tools to succeed in college. And then, news of a mass shooting at their local mall in rural Maine threatens to shatter their worlds and their relationship completely.

As detailed updates and reports begin to appear in the media, Maggie realizes that she knows the shooter. Nathan Dugan, who she remembers as an awkward young man, fell out of her memory long ago. But his name cannot be erased from her archived class rosters. Nor can the violent essay that he wrote for her freshman composition seminar, the essay that many believe hinted at the violent massacre to come.

Suddenly, Maggie finds herself catapulted into the center of a heated national controversy. Will the overlooked essay destroy Maggie’s personal and professional lives? Or are some red flags just too easy to overlook?

4. This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

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At 10:00 a.m. at Opportunity High School in Alabama, Principal Trenton finishes the predictable speech she gives at the beginning of every spring semester. Work hard. Develop good character. Find new beginnings. At 10:02 a.m., the entire student body begins filing out of the auditorium to head to class, only to find that the doors have been locked. Three minutes later, Tyler Browne starts shooting.

This is Where It Ends offers a minute-by-minute account of a school shooting by a former student. Switching between four narrators, all of whom have a history with Tyler, these narrators help paint the total portrait of a modern-day tragedy. Autumn, Tyler’s sister, cannot believe that her brother could be capable of murder. Sylvia, Autumn’s secret girlfriend, can. Tomas, Sylvia’s brother, desperately attempts to save his sister from outside the auditorium. And Claire, Tyler’s ex-girlfriend, wonders if she could have done more to save Tyler from himself.

But this story is not about the shooter. It’s about the victims. It’s about community, growing from despair, and finding hope.

5. Crash and Burn by Michael Hassan

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Everyone knows Steven “Crash” Crashinsky. After all, Crash became a hero on April 21, 2008, when he stopped his classmate David “Burn” Burnett from taking their high school hostage with assault weapons and explosives. In return for saving more than a thousand lives, Crash relishes in his nationwide fame. As a hero, his drug problems can’t stop him from being recruited by prestigious universities. Nor can they stop him from signing on with a literary agent for a book deal.

However, what Crash’s fans don’t know is what came before that fateful day in April: the story of two misfit teens whose lives have been interwoven with one another since grade school. As Crash’s book agent presses him to complete his book, Crash considers the life and secrets of his old friend, Burn. How did Crash stop Burn from entering the school? And what did Burn whisper to Crash just before the siege ended? It’s time for the world to find out.

6. Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

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Joan and her four-year-old son, Lincoln, have had the perfect day. As the sun shines above them, Joan and Lincoln soak up the last few minutes of sunshine before the zoo’s closing time. But when a gunman starts shooting just as Joan prepares to leave, Joan sprints back into the heart of the zoo, Lincoln in her arms. For the next three hours, relying solely on her knowledge of the zoo’s map, Joan must play a deadly game of hide-and-seek.

Stress and fear quickly begin to take a toll. Lincoln becomes increasingly hungry and fussy, and Joan is running out of places to hide. Throughout the course of Fierce Kingdom, Gin Phillips asks her readers one central question. With an active shooter on the hunt, which will win? The animalistic instinct to survive or the motherly instinct to protect?

7. Another Day in the Death of America: The Chronicle of Ten Short Lives by Gary Younge

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If you’re more drawn to nonfiction, then this is the perfect pick for you!

At least seven children die per day in America due to gunfire. In response to this statistic, award-winning British journalist Gary Younge picked a randomly selected day: November 23, 2013. On this day, he discovered, researched, and connected with ten different families who lost a child due to needless gun violence.

Nine-year-old Jaiden Dixon was shot and killed by his mother’s ex-boyfriend. Eleven-year-old Tyler Dunn was shot to death accidentally by his friend, whose father had left a loaded shotgun in the boy’s room. Although each of the ten cases differs in motive, race, age, and geographic location, all of the victims share one thing in common. Their stories hardly made the daily news. In this expert journalism, Gary Younge asks the reader to consider how normalized gun violence has become. How did we get here? And how do we get out?

We hope you pick up these invaluable books to educate yourself about the depth of the gun violence issue in the United States. Hopefully, they will leave a lasting impression and push for dramatic sweeping change.

Interested in building your library with novels about reform and justice? Click here to find seven absurd novels that will change the way you think!

Never underestimate the power of books when it comes to education, advocacy, and positive social change!

If you or a loved one has been directly or indirectly impacted by the social state of the United States, we encourage you to use one of these several hotlines.

Mental Health Emergency Hotline: Calling 988 will connect you to a crisis counselor regardless of where you are in the United States.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI, or text “HELPLINE” to 62640.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); 

Above all, remember to take care of yourselves and each other.