Study Guide

We Need to Talk About Kevin Summary

By Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin Summary

In April 1999, Drew Barrymore had Never Been Kissed, Cher told everyone to "Believe," and two kids shot up a high school in Columbine, Colorado. One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn't belong. School shootings shouldn't belong anywhere in the country, but they happen, and on April 8, 1999, fictional Kevin Khatchadourian kommits a killer krime of his own, trapping nine classmates and a teacher and killing most of them with a bow and many arrows.

Over a year later, Kevin's mother, Eva, begins to write letters to her husband, Franklin. They have been separated since Kevin's crime. Having a psychopath for a son will put some strain on a marriage, that's for sure. In her letters, Eva tries to work out what went wrong. Who is to blame for Kevin's actions? Eva herself, the cold and distant mother? Kevin, who seems to have been evil from birth? Or Franklin, the overenthusiastic, enabling father?

Eva walks us through a timeline of her life. Kevin is born, and she feels no love for the child who won't nurse. She's unsure if Kevin won't nurse because she doesn't love him or if she doesn't love him because he won't nurse. These types of conundrums are typical for this story.

As Kevin grows up, he acts out. He pulls hair. He shoots grape juice over Eva's white clothes with a squirt gun. He makes fun of people in public. He tries to turn classmates in kindergarten against each other. Throughout all this, Eva thinks her son is disturbed. Franklin thinks this is typical boy behavior.

Kevin also wears a diaper until he's six years old, which isn't typical behavior for anyone. He uses his diaper to drive his mother crazy, pooping in it immediately after each time she changes him. One day, she gets so angry, she throws little Kevin across the nursery, breaking his arm on the changing table. He gets a cast for the fractured limb. Surprisingly, Eva doesn't have to lie to her husband about what happened—Kevin lies for Eva. Eva wonders if he does it so that she will somehow owe him later for keeping her secret.

Kevin becomes more and more extreme as a teenager. He wears clothes that are too small, he has a sniveling little friend who throws bricks off a highway overpass, and he humiliates a girl at a school dance. Soon, Kevin is exposing himself to his mother at home, while accusing a teacher at school of sexually abusing him. The allegations are inconclusive.

Curious to see if she's only capable of giving birth to Rosemary's Baby, Eva secretly removes her diaphragm and becomes pregnant with another child against her husband's wishes. This is right up there near "having a psychopath for a son" for things that can destroy a marriage. Eva gives birth to Celia, Kevin's opposite—she's a girl, she's sweet, and she actually likes her mother.

Around this time, school shootings being occurring across the United States. They get a lot of news time, and Kevin doesn't like the boys who commit these shootings. Not because they killed people, but because, according to Kevin, they didn't do it right. Either they got caught, killed themselves, or bungled it, killing fewer people than they should have. Creepy. This isn't just a red flag; this is all the red bedsheets in Bed, Bath, and Beyond stitched together and waving furiously in the breeze.

When Kevin is supposed to be watching Celia, something happens. Not your usual accident—it's not like Celia breaks a leg or gets lost. No, she loses an eyeball. An eyeball. Franklin blames Eva for leaving Liquid Plumr where Celia could reach, but Eva knows Kevin had something to do with it.

Finally, Eva reaches the point where Kevin commits his crime, three days before his sixteenth birthday. His classmates are dead, and Kevin is arrested. Because he is fifteen, he is given a reduced sentence and put in juvenile prison until he turns 18. However, Eva has a surprise for us: Kevin didn't just kill his classmates—he also killed Franklin and Celia. Eva has been writing these letters to her husband in the afterlife. The postage must be astronomical.

By the time Eva finishes writing all her letters, it's April 8, 2001, the two-year anniversary of Kevin's crime. He will be eighteen soon, and he'll be transferred to big-boy prison. Kevin is scared. Eva finally asks him why he did it. Why did he kill all those people? "I used to think I knew," he says. "Now I'm not so sure" (28.52).

At this point, Eva's tired of trying to find a reason for Kevin's actions. She's sick of trying to place the blame on someone. So she tries a new tactic—loving her son. In her lonely apartment by herself, she prepares the spare bedroom for him, for the day he inevitably gets out of jail and comes home.