In Sweden, there is a terrorist attack in a private upper secondary school. Maria Norberg (Maja) is arrested for her part in the murders. This is her story. She is a teenager, and as she describes her deepest thoughts and emotions, her family life and her love life, her hate for her boyfriend Sebastian’s father, and her conflicted feelings about her boyfriend, the reader is left to draw his/her own conclusion about her guilt or innocence regarding the tragic event. She is in jail in isolation. She carefully relates the events leading up to the attack. She admits to murdering two people, her boyfriend Sebastian and her best friend Amanda, but she insists she murdered Amanda by accident, while she intentionally shot Sebastian to prevent him from shooting her.
Maja and her friends were promiscuous and engaged in dangerous behavior both sexually and with drugs. They seemed to have no clear boundaries to adhere to and did as they pleased, most of the time; sometimes it involved lying or else their parents were simply concerned with other things and did not interfere with their decisions. As a result, Maja and her boyfriend Sebastian make some very foolish decisions.
Maja was given the responsibility for her boyfriend’s well-being after he suffered a breakdown. It is a task she was ill equipped to handle, but no one seemed to care or notice how it drained her. It seemed the adults were too busy to take care of him and simply gave her the job. She was guilt ridden and believed she had to help him.
Sebastian was the black sheep in his family. His father abused and disliked him. His father abused many people because he was very wealthy and powerful. Sebastian yearned for his father’s acceptance but he could not compete with his “better”, well loved brother, Lucas.
Sebastian was cruel to their friend Samir, an immigrant who had a scholarship to their school. He believed Samir was beneath him. Samir had created a narrative about his parents that was false. He said his father was a lawyer and his mother had been a doctor when actually she was a maid and his dad was a taxi driver. Sebastian taunts Samir. Maja, however, liked Samir and was usually kind to him.
Maja seemed too sophisticated, sexually, for the 16 year old she was when the novel begins. However, she had loved Sebastian since they met and played together as young children. When he was held back in school and didn’t graduate with his class, he wound up in her class, and their romance bloomed. He became dependent upon her, but the burden of caring for him grew too great for her to bear. Her parents wanted her to be in the relationship with him because of his powerful father whose influence they hoped would help them.
The novel methodically analyzes the attack on the school which has become an all too common occurrence in today’s world. Maja’s life is scrutinized before and after the murders take place. Both she and Sebastian wanted to be appreciated for who they were, not what they had, but both would soon be judged in the court of public opinion for what they did. Was Maja a willing accomplice in the terrorist attack or was she trying to save herself?
I found the courtroom drama interesting, but I found the language and sex scenes seemed designed to give the impression that all young, rich kids were cruel, spoiled racists who were promiscuous and did drugs with abandon.