Dave Cullen offers the inspirational journey of the students from Margery Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland: Birth of a Movement. Before you think it’s all “happy happy joy joy,” you should know the stories include dark times as well as light. Of course, any survivor of a school shooting or other tragedy has ups and downs. But this group of students went on to create a movement about gun safety and common-sense gun laws. Because they felt so strongly and had the eyes of the nation (and the world).

Cullen is the media’s “school shooting” expert, based on his work around the Columbine High School shooting and others since then. It gives him credibility with the kids of MSD and their families. Where other reporters had limited access, Cullen’s was extensive. He sits in on meetings, visits their office (whose location was a closely held secret), follows them as they tour the country at various gatherings. Throughout it all, he listens and absorbs what the kids experience.

In 2018 I listened to a short audiobook called #NeverAgain: A New Generation Draws the Line by siblings David and Lauren Hogg. Some of what Cullen tells repeats the story from the survivors. But this book about Parkland and MSD is also so much more. Cullen explains how the group chose their name, moving from #NeverAgain to March for Our Lives. He discusses perspective of some MSD parents, faculty, and other adults. Most importantly, he traces the steps taken to create a national movement against gun violence.

My conclusions

It’s amazing to me that just hours after the shooting occurred, MSD students began talking about rising up and fighting back. Not against their assailant, but against a culture that normalizes active shooter drills and worse, school shootings. In fact, Cullen barely mentions the culprit at MSD, and that’s intentional. Because this book isn’t a story about him or how he got to that Valentine’s Day. It’s about how the students at the school turned the incident into a fight for the lives of kids everywhere.

Cullen doesn’t sugar coat the emotions the MSD kids felt. He addresses frantic feelings, depression, stress, anger, and everything else. He acknowledges them as capable of doing what they need to in order to heal. And part of what helped some of them heal was the activism. 

The kids and their families still had typical high school experiences—musicals, proms, graduations. But the undercurrent of loss never leaves. And Cullen handles it with appropriate grace and respect, while allowing their uprising to take center stage.

I recommend this if you’re curious how a tragedy morphs into a movement for justice. The power and inspiration are palpable, but not saccharine.

Pair with the book I mentioned above, or with another activist book like We Are Indivisible: A Blueprint for Democracy After Trump or When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele.