We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (book and movie thoughts)

Eva Khatchadourin is a smart, fun loving free spirit who falls for and marries the more conservative and level Franklin.  When Eva finds herself pregnant she is unsure of herself for the first time in her life, never really feeling the “mom gene” like so many women do. 

When Kevin is born Eve continues to struggle as she tries to master parenthood and finds herself failing time and again.  Kevin cries and cries no matter how she rocks him or feeds him or takes him for long walks in the stroller.  Exhausted and frustrated she shares her feelings and concerns with Franklin who feels that Kevin is just doing what babies do and she needs to lighten up.

As Kevin grows, his manipulation towards his mother does as well, ignoring her when she tries to teach him things but lights up when his dad enters the room.  Years later when Eva finds herself pregnant again she fears for the safety of her baby daughter, Celia. An accident that happens when Celia is around 5 makes Eva wonder if it truly was an accident.  Her feelings towards Kevin puts strains on her marriage.

Through letters Eva shares her concern through the time that Kevin is born, all the way through to the school massacre when Kevin kills seven of his fellow students in high school.

Uber creepy movie cover

My book club and I read this book in May of 2006.  At the time this book was a book in the bag from the library where we could borrow 10 books at once.  My notes from that years review says,

We Need To Talk About Kevin was a different style of read for us.  This book led to a deep discussion about motherhood.  While some in the group questioned if Eva’s love was real or put on for her son, others felt that Eva felt her freedom was taken away with the birth of Kevin.  While most of the group found the book to be hard to read due its topic and content, I enjoyed it – finding it frightening and an honest portrayal at the same time.  On a scale of 1 -5, even now I am surprised to see that over all average of this read was a 4.  (I remember it as most of the group not liking it and now looking back I see that while a hard read, it seems to have been appreciated.)

The thing I remember most about We Need To Talk About Kevin, is that Kevin is not likable.  He is dark, manipulative, cruel, and moody.  I can not even imagine what it would be like to be his mother.  Honestly, I don’t know how much I could have taken if I had a child that treated me that way.  If you have even read Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Piccoult, while the story line is similar, the boys in the stories are not.  In Piccoult’s book (was his name Peter?) the boy is picked on by his school mates.  He is a sympathetic character and in the end, honestly I felt bad for him.   Not so in We Need To Talk About Kevin.  In this case I feel bad for his mom.

The book all these years later still sticks with me.  A hard read, but I think an important one.


Just this past week I rented the movie version that came out earlier this year of We Need To Talk About Kevin.  And after renting it, it sat on the end table for about a week.  I could not get myself in the mood to watch it.  I knew from the book that it was a hard story and as much as I wanted to see how it compared to the book, I knew I had to be in the right frame of mind to handle it. 

When I finally did watch it with my hubby, I found the beginning to be confusing.  Told differently in the book it started with a series of flash backs and forwards and to current time that if I had not read the book I dont know if I would have followed.  Even having read the book, I struggled as I tried to explain to my husband what was happening in the first 30 minutes of the movie.

When the movie finally does get to the story of Kevin it levels out and is much easier to see what is going on and what the past and present flashes mean.  John Reilly plays the part of the dad and that threw me off a bit as I am used to him playing all these goofy roles in movies – or maybe that is just the movies I seen him in.  Tilda Swinton (The Whole Witch in Narnia) however felt spot on. 

I recommend read the book, and then watch the movie.  Both are spectacular.

24 thoughts on “We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (book and movie thoughts)

  1. I didn’t realize it was a movie already. Did it come out in the theater, or go straight to video. I think Tilda Swinton sounds like a perfect match for the way the mother is described.

  2. I keep thinking about watching this with Kevin, but not sure if he’d put up with the switching timelines, not having read the book. I’ll have to see if he’ll give it a try. The book was amazingly disturbing, but not an easy read. I really enjoyed her other book, The Post-Birthday World – still great writing, but not such a difficult subject matter.

    1. I think it is not a book for everyone Mystica. It is dark and it does not have a happy ending. I cant explain what pulls me into it, it is scary to think that this could actually happen… a child so dark inside and no one sees it but his mom…

  3. It is a scary story. Scary because it can and DOES happen. All the time. Just pick up the paper and you will read about someone killing someone and, when you think about it, the killer is someone’s child. I liked that the view point is from the parent.

  4. I read this last spring and could not even really gather my thoughts enough to post a proper review–it was a difficult read and now months later, I find that I never had any sympathy for Kevin and spent all sympathetic thoughts for his poor mother. That child was born with some kind of mental disorder and I refuse to believe that we can blame his extreme actions on environment/nurture. He was a wicked child and mom was overwhelmed with him and their relationship from the very beginning.
    Love your review–having a child I send to high school every morning, I have to work hard to keep this book from my mind on some days.

    1. Thanks Kim. It is a book that stays with you. I agree, Kevin was born with some sort of “evil gene” or deficiency that doctors missed but his mom who spent the most time with him seen it. It is frightening.

  5. Without exception I always read the book first, however even though the book remains with me as it does you, I am not sure I am that bothered about seeing the film.

  6. I was so torn about this book (in a positive way). It’s excellently written and intelligent. As a mother I had a tough time liking either Eva or Kevin, but I have tremendous respect for Shriver for going so deep into some issues. It really shakes you up and makes you rethink the mother-child connection.
    Excellent review. I hope I review it soon and manage to express my thoughts as coherently as you did 🙂

    1. Thanks Ivana, this review would be years in the making for me since I did not review it until I had seen the movie ;). It is a powerful read – I would love to see your thoughts on it.

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