for alison book cover

Andy Parker spoke at JMU March 14 about the writing process behind the book and to remind the community of Alison's legacy.

Andy Parker had no idea that when he was dropping off his daughter Alison at JMU for the first time, only a few years later he’d be hit with the news of her murder and become a gun violence prevention activist. On move-in day, he was just another proud Duke dad with his “JMU Dad” hat.  

“For Alison” is a book by Andy released on March 5 about “the murder of a young journalist and a father’s fight for gun safety.” The book is emotionally charged and raw with pain and anger. Andy struggles through the tears, wrestles with inner fury and enlightens his audience with a few moments of solace in a far-from-fair reality.

This is the kind of book that can’t be read in a busy classroom or on the bus. The laughter in the air doesn’t pair well with the agonizing tragedy the reader may feel through the depth of every page. It’s the kind of book that one has to tune everything out around them and reread sentences.

I’ve read numerous books about grieving the loss of a loved one with authors trying to recreate an experience of someone else or attempting to replicate scenarios fictionally. They try to pinpoint the exact reaction, struggling to find the right words for something that’s felt, not seen. Despite the horrific event that led him here, Andy captures his pain and grief with an array of thoughts that can’t be imitated.

It’s obvious Andy isn’t writing this book to please anyone, and this is what makes it stand out most of all — he doesn’t hold back. He uses curse words and makes blunt statements. He’s unapologetically forward and angry. This kind of writing is refreshing in a time when many writers are shadowed by the scrutiny following their writing, causing them to write for others instead of themselves.

Every page is a lens into Andy’s personal struggles since Alison’s death, allowing the reader to get to know Andy as much as Alison. For example, his description of the day Alison was murdered drags on in a way that shows the loss of time he felt. While this may seem like a negative, it’s a successful writing tactic that enables the reader to understand “The Day,” as he calls it.

Sen. Tim Kaine makes it clear in his forward that while this book is “For Alison,” it’s also for any other victims or survivors of gun violence from mass shootings to suicide. While this isn’t the easiest subject to write or read about, it’s a welcomed tribute to those who have suffered.

However, what makes this book different from other political statement pieces is that it isn’t a 300-page rant about a belief; the book continues a narrative format throughout, using the events that occurred to reveal political opinions and calls to action. Because of this, even if the reader doesn’t agree on Andy’s standpoint on gun laws, they’re sure to be invested in the book the whole way through.

This is a must-read for all JMU students, faculty and staff, as well as anyone in the journalism field. This isn’t a story about someone far away that once was, this is a story about someone who walked the Quad and sat in Harrison Hall classrooms with SMAD professors Ryan Parkhurst and Roger Soenksen. She was an editor for The Breeze and a member of Alpha Phi. She was one of us, and for those going into journalism, she shared the same desires and passion. Andy’s words are ones that everyone should stop to take in, at least to honor Alison’s legacy.

Contact Shanna Kelly at breezecopy@gmail.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.

Shanna Kelly is a double major in SMAD (journalism) and Spanish with a double minor in translation and interpretation and honors interdisciplinary studies. In addition to The Breeze, Shanna is also an active member of Kappa Alpha Theta.