Skip to main content

Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories

Review

Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories

edited by Sarah Lerner

- Click here to read Neha S.'s review.

PARKLAND SPEAKS: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories is an anthology edited by MSD English and journalism teacher Sarah Lerner. In the book, the students and faculty share their own experiences from the February 14, 2018, shooting and the weeks following the tragic event, weaving a narrative of a community that was so utterly destroyed, but that somehow managed to pick itself up and become stronger as one people, determined to bring about change. PARKLAND SPEAKS is a powerful, emotionally challenging read, but it is full of important truths and stories that must be shared with the world.

This was the hardest book I have ever had to read. The anthology is a collection of poems, short stories, photographs and artwork that is raw and real. The students discuss their terror during the incident, the shock that they had to endure and the symptoms of PTSD that they exhibited after the shooting. In a way that perhaps only high school students can, these young men and women don’t hold back. They share every piece of their agony, angst and confusion. And yet, even in the midst of all the fear and anger, the structure of the anthology is such that readers get to see a gradual turn towards hope.

"PARKLAND SPEAKS is a powerful, emotionally challenging read, but it is full of important truths and stories that must be shared with the world."

The first part of the collection is front-loaded with accounts of the shooting, the pieces often lacking a positive resolution. The short stories, for example “The Day That Changed My Life” by Nadia Murillo and “Behind ‘Protected’ Doors” by Madalyn Snyder, were especially detailed in their accounts, discussing the last hours of normalcy in the day, then the moment when the fire alarm went off and the terrifying hours that followed.

The middle of the book focuses on the mourning of the 17 members of the community lost, and then, with a few exceptions, the last part of the book discusses the seemingly miraculous genesis of healing throughout the community. One of the later stories is written by a young woman named Grace Briden, who was comforted by the therapy dogs that the school had brought in to help the kids get through the days back in school after the shooting. Briden, inspired by the positive impact the dogs had on her, took training classes with her own dog, Duncan, so that he could become a therapy dog. Now, together, they help others through their own traumas and anxieties.

The last essay in the collection was written by Amy Kenny, the yoga instructor at MSD. She talked about how students begged her to have yoga classes right after the shooting, how hundreds of people from the community showed up to the classes in the park and how being together became therapeutic to all of them. These moments of healing and hope lift the spirit when reading this difficult anthology. We can all learn something from the community of Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Reading these stories, one theme that emerges is the way in which these students and teachers learned the importance of not taking life for granted and doing everything one can to make the world a better place than it was when one found it. In one of the stories towards the end, student Madalyn Snyder remarks on her hope coming away from the shooting, only two weeks after it happened: “You never realize how easily the life you’ve been given can be torn away from you...I want to believe that people will walk away from this catastrophe stronger than before. That maybe we won’t be so careless with our lives.”

I admire Sarah Lerner and the other faculty and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas for having the courage to share their stories and become so vulnerable in this way. It is not without purpose, and readers would do well to remember that. These students and teachers are driven and want to make sure this doesn’t happen again. After everything they went through, the MSD community deserves to have their voices heard and their stories told. This was a very important anthology to be published, and one that everyone should read. And I hope everyone understands me when I say that I hope nothing like this book ever has to be made again.


PARKLAND SPEAKS is a mixed media collection of everything from photography to poetry from the student survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a school shooting that touched the nation occurred on February 14th, 2018. It is a powerful, heart-wrenching firsthand look at the experiences before a tragedy and the aftermath of one, along with the toll it takes on all, especially young people. Edited by Sarah Lerner, an English and journalism teacher at the school in Parkland, Florida, these students’ messages are eloquent and moving, no matter if their medium was a paintbrush or a pencil.

"A devastatingly horrific and beautiful account of tragedy, filled with poignant and sometimes excruciating prose, PARKLAND SPEAKS is a book that everyone should read."

This book starts out with an introduction from the editor, who explains her relationship with writing and how being a teacher to the students who had to suffer through so much loss has impacted her. It is moving from the start, and places the reader in a context that allows them to grasp the weight of the book. The entire book’s layout and design gives it the feeling of a literary magazine or yearbook designed by students, a “meet the contributors” section with brief biographies or each student in the back, along with resources to help others who have suffered loss. This allows it to be even more impactful, as it adds to the personal feel of the book.

While there is a great deal of writing in the book, with illustrations and photography scattered throughout as well, some interesting additions were social media posts and scanned in pages of real handwritten works from the students. At times these felt more ineffective and were easier to flip through while reading, rather than forcing me to truly think, but they also added a bit of much needed levity to an otherwise very serious topic. There were times where I teared up, so shaken by the grief or panic expressed in these works, and other times where I smiled at the courage and kindness, the confidence that these students were able to keep even after all of their tragedy.

One aspect of this book that I did not expect going in was the weight it had on me, as a student of a similar age to many who contributed to this book. I don’t think I’ll ever completely understand what that day was like for these students, but experiencing their accounts of it was eye-opening, and allowed me to be more grateful for the safety I have experienced. This book is something that I would recommend to everyone to read, but to young people even more so, as it is so impactful to read about experiences your own peers have gone through, written by them. To any young person reading this book, it will not only show them the importance of life and how to cope with the worst of times, but it will also show them how they themselves can spur on change in their world. This book is an account of our world at its worst and best, and how anyone can change it if they make their voices heard. A devastatingly horrific and beautiful account of tragedy, filled with poignant and sometimes excruciating prose, PARKLAND SPEAKS is a book that everyone should read.

Reviewed by Cat Barra and Neha S., Teen Board Member. on February 14, 2019

Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories
edited by Sarah Lerner