on parkland

Expansive and hopeful, Parkland sketches a moving portrait of the teenaged founders of the March for Our Lives movement.

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Across twenty-one fast-paced chapters journalist Dave Cullen thoughtfully examines the student-led protest against gun violence that erupted in the wake of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th, 2018. The author sketches nuanced profiles of the media stars of March for Our Lives (MfOL)—Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, David Hogg—as well as the group’s less visible members, as he incisively analyzes the strategy behind the students’ major protests and considers their extraordinary impact on the national debate surrounding gun control.

The author’s account of the organization is multifaceted. Frequently interviewing students from Parkland, Cullen interweaves their own experience of what happened and their beliefs about what their movement represents with research about gun violence, post-traumatic stress disorder, and coping mechanisms. The book validates the students’ beliefs and usefully contextualizes them in a larger social framework, positioning the U.S. as a nation plagued by preventable shootings and broken government.

In plain prose Cullen also fully renders the turbulent inner lives of the Florida students who organized MfOL. He sensitively portrays the sense of community and loss they experienced in the wake of the tragedy, and he vividly depicts their rage toward corrupt politicians, apathetic adults, and right-wing provocateurs. The author focuses as much on the kids’ high-profile protests as he does their daily routines, and he makes painfully clear the many difficulties they have navigating between the two worlds.

The book lacks anything approaching a thesis, but from start to finish it well develops a small set of themes. The privileged students’ fraught but sustained effort to connect with Black youth gun control activists and amplify their voices; the unbearable emotional toll of the shooting; the media’s obsession with creating “celebrity” shooters and survivors; the group’s struggle to balance attending school and extracurriculars with developing a comprehensive, bipartisan gun control agenda. Cullen’s choice to approach MfOL through multiple lens seems especially apt for a movement that’s still ongoing.

Broad in scope and eminently readable, Parkland captures the trials and triumphs of the Florida suburb’s student activists during their first year of protest. While the book’s a sharp profile of the students of MfOL, it also brilliantly captures the country’s shifting cultural climate toward guns, and it’s well worth checking out.

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5 thoughts on “on parkland

  1. Great take on this one. I felt a bit lost with the lack of thesis you mentioned, but I liked the various themes he covers. It was an interesting structure and fascinating look at the movement and the far-reaching effects of events like these.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I’m wondering if that’d have been more of an issue for me had I not listened to the book on audio. Often books like this (i.e. collections of interrelated long-form pieces?) work well for me as audiobooks, since they make for absorbing serial listening, but I can see how it’d be frustrating if you were reading the chapters consecutively. Really glad I came across this one through your review of it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You write that the book doesn’t have a thesis. Do you think it’s more like a work of unbiased journalism in which the author reports facts as they are without inserting an opinion? If so, that’s my jam. I’m not a fan of reading a large work of arguments, but I do highly enjoy journalists who give me information and let me come to m own conclusions. Of course, rhetorically speaking, the information a journalist provides is culled in such a way that it leads readers to a conclusion.

    One thing I noticed right as MfoL happened was all these colleges on Twitter writing to the students and asking them to apply. It feels like a media grab; if only someone famous would go to Harvard or Yale or UCLA, then that school can profit on the student’s fame as an activist. *sigh*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a perfect way of describing his approach. Cullen doesn’t pretend to be objective and is upfront about how well he got to know the kids he followed, but he also makes an effort to sketch a well-rounded portrait, capturing the group members’ flaws and inexperience as well as their passion and knack for organizing. He leaves a lot up to the reader to decide about MfOL, though the book assumes you’re onboard with sensible/mild gun control (what these kids are advocating).

      Liked by 1 person

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