Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2003 (2003)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
his is the tale of a school (Parkland Middle School, nicknamed
by its students) that is riddled with bullies and emotional violence, but whose principal, Janet Capelli, is in extreme denial. It's told from the point of view of Russell Trainor, who found seventh grade '
like everyone else took a secret summer course in how to act, what to say, and what groups to be in, and I never found out about it.
nfortunately Russell says the wrong thing at the wrong time and is targeted by scary Richie Tucker for his '
personal psychological terror campaign.
' He never knows when he's going to be punched or harrassed, but it's continual. Russell has to do something so he consults with '
the one kid who it's okay for anyone, absolutely anyone, to trash
', Elliot Gekewicz. Elliot is into dinosaurs and speaks of tyranno and its prey and the fact that weaker dinos traveled in herds (Russell thinks '
n the library, they see tall skinny Catalina (who desperately misses her mother in the Philippines) being harrassed by Bethany, '
ruler of the top clique of seventh-grade girls.
' Brainstorming together, the three decide on a scientific approach - a '
' - which initially has mixed results. Russell ends up with a black eye and Elliot is on crutches. But Catalina publishes her story on KidNet, a school local area network on which kids can message each other, and it begins to make a difference.
nterspersed with these events are classroom discussions with an enlightened social studies teacher about
's diary. Analogies are made to bystanders in those times when the Nazi '
bullies were taking over the world
'. Gradually, more and more students come forward to tell their own stories of bullying and being bullied. The trio publishes them to all students in the school in a bulletin they call
. They garner surprising support and create social change.
ut when the
fall into a libel trap, everything falls apart, and it takes courageous action by the trio at the school Science Fair to win back what they had lost. And, while their actions reduce casual bullying, Russell's situation with Richie is a different matter, one that he only slowly begins to understand. At the same time he learns that some problems are beyond his scope to solve, but has confirmation that it's important to tell the whole story.
t's hard to imagine a child going through school without having bullied, been bullied or been a bystander to at least emotional violence. It's a very important topic, and as such the book deserves a wide audience, but
is also an absorbing, engaging read in which the ultimate underdogs come into their own. Don't miss it!
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