We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver | Review

A good example of how adult book covers are more boring than YA covers.

A good example of how adult book covers are more boring than YA covers.

Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Author: Lionel Shriver
Narrated by: Coleen Marlo
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: 2003
Length: 400 pages/16 hours 9 mins
Series?: standalone
Genre: Adult Contemporary Fiction
Format: audio book/paperback
Source: borrowed from my aunt, purchased from audible.com


Eva was a reluctant mother. A world traveler and owner of her own business, Eva never pictured herself as the motherly type. So when she finally does have a son, she’s not sure if her failure to bond with him is her fault or something bigger. Kevin is…different. The fussy baby turns into a detached child. The the detached child ends up murdering his classmates in a school gym one rainy Thursday afternoon in April. Told through a series of letters to her estranged, but still much adored, husband, Eva slowly spins a story that is at one horrifying, intense, emotional, and controversial. Love or hate this book, readers are sure to have an opinion on Eva, Kevin, and this painful story of motherhood.


I am not a mother. So I can’t claim to know anything about mothering or have a personal experience with it. But I still had some strong feelings and opinions coming out of this book. This is a very intense read. Because Eva tells her story very, very slowly, the intensity builds and builds. Eva tells the story after “Thursday,” but she doesn’t reveal all the details, including some of the most important and horrifying ones, until their rightful place in her narration of her life as she remembers it.

Clearly saying I loved this book is the wrong word. But it is an incredibly memorable story. Eva and Kevin, and even Celia and Franklin, are characters that I will not forget. Both Franklin and Eva are multidimensional, as I found myself both sympathetic to and critical of both at various points. Kevin’s character was constructed carefully, showing each progressively evil moment through Eva’s (very biased) eyes. He cried constantly. He refuses to breastfeed. He doesn’t potty train until age six. And he knows exactly what he’s doing. Kevin’s every mood is calculated and specifically designed to manipulate those around him. He’s smart. And dangerous.

Most of the drive from We Need to Talk About Kevin comes from Shriver’s impeccable pacing and the question, “What happened on Thursday?” and “Why did it happen?” Shriver not only made me question ever taking the dive into parenthood (don’t worry, that will fade away), but made me question mental health standards and the whole nature vs. nurture debate. It’s not a book for everyone, but it’s definitely a book worth reading.

Notes on the Audio

Clocking in at over sixteen hours, this may be considered a longer audiobook than many I typically read, which means it’s a good buy for a single credit on Audible! At first I didn’t really care for Coleen Marlo’s voice, since she kind of sounds like she’s got a stuffy nose, but eventually I got used to her. She captures Eva’s voice quite well, that of a privileged upper-middle class woman with detachment issues of her own. I highly recommend the audio book, as I found myself listening for hours and not wanting to stop — the story is never boring!

Final Grade: B

While I’m normally not a fan of epistolary novels, I could forgive the format for this incredible book. It would be a very hard book for a mother to read (as my aunt told me when she let me borrow it). Since We Need to Talk About Kevin is an adult novel, it’s not really a good pick for a high school library. But consider reading it with a book club or a friend, because readers will inevitably have opinions that will be need to be discussed. I don’t know anyone who has read it, so I’m suffering from a massive book hangover right now. Because of that, please share your thoughts in the comments — I need to talk about Kevin!

For those of you that have read the book, what are your thoughts? For those who haven’t, do you feel that school shooting perpetrators are a result of nature or nurture? (Oh no, I may have open a huge can of worms here. Please be respectful!)

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15 responses to “We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver | Review

  1. Well said, I gave up reading this book on my first try but ended up going back to it because I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I’m so glad I did! In my opinion, a truly groundbreaking book! :-) x

  2. I haven’t read the book. I am a mum and the whole idea of this book is beyond scary and worrying. I will probably read it long after my kids are out of school and am relaxed that they are not likely to develop into anti-social, disturbed elements :)

  3. I picked up a copy of this book at a book sale. It doesn’t seem like something I would normally read, but I think that’s precisely why I picked it up – the synopsis seemed so chilling and far removed from the books which I usually read that I had to pick it up. It’s on my to-read-in-the-new-year list

  4. I read this as part of my book-club list and I still remember the discussion vividly. This book was so polarising that the conversation ended up in trench verbal warfare.
    On the right side of the ring the Evaites, those of us who thought she had dared to explore taboo themes: such as motherhood, the bond between parents and children (is love a must? Is it natural?), the consequences of a child’s action (are they always and utterly ascribable to their parents’ upbringing).

    On the left side of the ring were the Kevinites, the ones who thought that the Character of Kevin had been trivialised (he is evil from the beginning, he is super-humanly clever, he even teaches himself to read and hides it well, he iss always and unquestionably beyond redemption, a proper pantomime villain) and the topic chosen with a Hollywood adaptation in mind.

    I thought that this book will make a classic, because it explores human emotions, their idiosyncrasies, their absurdities, and it also captures the Zeitgeist. Shrewd, perhaps a little long, but certainly worth reading.
    I don’t agree with marking books, but if you insisted, I would give it an A.

  5. This book still haunts me. The ending felt like a punch in the gut. Shriver is definitely one of my top 5 authors. I really liked this book, but the books of hers I love best are The New Republic and The Post-Birthday World. I also reviewed her latest book Big Brother a few months ago.

  6. I asked for this book as a birthday present a couple of years ago now, and didn’t get very far with it! You’ve prompted me to find it (is could be anywhere by now!) and give it another go :) I’ll add it to my to-read list and hopefully get round to reading it at some point in 2014.

  7. Pingback: Top Ten Books To Make You Cry | The Librarian Who Doesn't Say "Shhh"·

  8. Pingback: Book Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (5/5) One of the darkest and scariest books I’ve ever read. | Taking on a World of Words·

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