October 04, 1999 12:00 PM

The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall

by Misty Bernall

When one of Cassie Bernall’s classmates at Columbine High School put a gun to her head and asked if she believed in God, the 17-year-old junior answered, “Yes.” That response cost Cassie her life and turned her into a symbol of goodness in the face of twisted teen despair. The surprise of this sparse, heartbreaking book by Cassie’s mother (proceeds go to charity) is that the most celebrated victim of the April 20 massacre in Littleton, Colo., was hardly a saint—in fact, she was once nearly as troubled as her killers.

A rage-filled rebel who dabbled in drugs, drinking, witchcraft and self-mutilation, young Cassie fantasized about killing a teacher, her parents and even herself. The story of how her mother, Misty, and father, Brad, fought to save their daughter—they essentially imposed martial law and helped lead her toward a spiritual awakening two years ago—is far more complicated and enlightening than the tidy martyrdom imposed on Cassie after her death. “Things have changed so much since they were teenagers,” she wrote of her folks in one letter. “They have no idea, the things I face.” She Said Yes is a stirring, important look into the tribulations of one all-too-human teen. (Plough, $17)

Bottom Line: Poignant wake-up call to parents

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