Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘bullying

I’m not a nice person.

I’m not a good person.

I’m not a kind person.

This isn’t to say that I don’t ever try to be any of these three things.  I do, especially the last two.

It’s more to say that, for me, surviving in this cissexist, racist, ableist, heteronormative, classist, often fucked up world of ours has involved rejecting the idea that “good” and “bad” are static states of being.  I will never be a “good person” because, to me, “good” is not something that you achieve.  It’s an ongoing process that never ends.

It is, in fact, almost impossible not to be doing bad things as well as good when you are human and therefore flawed.  Especially when you are part of a messed up system, as we all are.

This, to me, is why it’s important to call out bad behavior, or hurtful language, or even ways of framing the world that make it easier to ignore harm that is being done to others.

Not because people deserve to be shamed or judged or called out, but because we are all fish who sometimes forget that the water is there, and part of helping each other do better involves pointing out when we didn’t do as well as we could have.

Since the world is complex (and not just in bad ways), the fact that we have the same goals doesn’t mean that we will always agree.  It may not always be possible to determine who was “right” and who was wrong about the choices people make or the words they use.

But this is where my librarian training kicks in and points out that more speech is better than less.  That it’s better to let people know what it is that you think they could have done better, so that they can decide for themselves if they want to change or not, rather than never giving them that option.  It’s also important to be specific about it, so that no one is left second guessing everything they do and say.

To me, it’s a sign of trust, to tell someone when what they did or said hurt you.  That’s not a thing you tell people when you think they won’t care.  Or worse, will use it to hurt you more.

When I tell people that what they said was sexist, or racist, or otherwise hurtful, I don’t do it because I want to hurt them. I don’t do it because I think they are bad people.  I don’t do it because I think they are irredeemably sexist, while I’m a perfect feminist, a model for everyone to follow.  I’m not specific about what they did wrong simply because I want to nitpick, I promise you that I have better things to do with my time.

I do it because this is what I truly believe, and because I have faith in their ability and willingness to do good things.  And most of all because I have faith that they will respect my opinion even if they disagree with it.

So I want to ask everyone out there who is asking all us to “keep YA kind” to remember that, while criticism is hard to take, criticism is not lack of kindness.  It’s often a measure of trust.

Everyone has flaws, everyone messes up.  That includes you, that includes me.  That includes the author you admire, the friend that has always been there for you, the teacher that inspired generations.

That someone is “good people” should never be an excuse for not listening, or used to admonish others for speaking.  Because “good” is something that you make the decision to do every second of every day, not something that you acquire and then use as a shield.

I have so much more to say on so many things that has happened this past week.  And so many links to smart women who you should really listen to more than me.  Hopefully I’ll even manage to make some link lists and get those words out and onto paper – er, pixels.  But I wanted to start with that, because I think it’s the most fundamental.

If you don’t trust that I am trying to do good as well, that my anger is a sign of hurt and not hate, that the opinions I express are genuine and not merely performative, that I am in fact trying to be kind to a great number of people, even when you disagree with me, even when I say things that hurt you or your friends or make you uncomfortable, then this conversation is never going to go anywhere.

Instead, “kindness” will once again become a way to reinforce the status quo, rather than a call to be more compassionate and empathetic.

Instead both “kind” and “good” will be used to avoid examining the problems we most certainly have, a way to once again NOT have the hard and complicated and uncomfortable conversations that are long overdue.

cover image for The Fly on the WallFly on the Wall by E. Lockhart

Gretchen Yee knows that the way to fit in at her alternative arts focused high school is to stand out, but she can’t quite manage to stop getting noticed for the wrong things.  In fact, her problems just keep piling up: Boys baffle her.  All of them, really – but especially Titus.  Her drawing teacher is less than appreciative of the comic book style art she favors.  Then there’s the news that her parents are getting a divorce, and her dad is moving out.

In a moment of frustration, Gretchen wishes that she could be a fly on the wall in the boys locker room, to see what they are like when they aren’t around girls. Maybe then she could at least figure boys out.  Then she gets her wish. Literally.

I can’t overemphasis how weird this book is.  Because yes, it’s a remake of metamorphosis, set in an alternative high school in New York City.  It’s also fun and quite brilliant, tackles bullying, friendship, and of course dealing with crushes, lust, and hormones.

Needless to say, Gretchen spying on the boys is hardly an appropriate thing to do, but she’s a fly o the wall and therefore has remarkable peripheral vision and she’s trapped in the room – not peeking through holes in the wall.  Most importantly, Lockhart handles the situation really well, both in terms of Gretchen’s decisions and how the boys are treated by the narrative.

cover image for Our Only May AmeiliaOur Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm

May Amelia is the only girl in her family, and she just so happens to also be the only girl among the pioneers who have settled along the Nasel River in the new state of Washington.  Being the only girl isn’t always easy, especially when her mother keeps trying to turn her into a Proper Young Lady, and her grandmother finds fault in everything she does.  But no matter how many scrapes she gets into, she’s still the only May Ameilia they’ve got.

May Ameilia’s voice is really what makes this book work as well as it does. Her syntax, phrasing, and perspective transports readers to a different time and place.  Inspired by a journal Holm found that was kept by one of her own ancestors, the novel is told in first person and covers a year or so in May Amelia’s life.  Solid and entertaining, Our Only May Amelia isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it manages to be unique and memorable.

I also want to note that there’s not any significant discussion of the impact that pioneer settlement had on the people who were already living in the area when the settlers came, as it’s told from May Amelia’s point of view.  The narrative is respectful of the rare Native American characters in the book, but of course not everyone in the story is.  I didn’t see anything that makes the book inappropriate for youngsters (although I’m also hardly the best judge) but a follow-up discussion with readers would be appropriate if possible, especially considering how rare Native American voices are in most library collections.

cover image for Where Things Come BackWhere Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Nothing newsworthy happens in Lily, Arkansas. Families scrape by – or don’t, and leave their loved ones to grieve.  But reporters begin to descend upon the small town when someone claims to have spotted the Lazarus Woodpecker, previously thought extinct.  For seventeen year old Cullen the return of the Lazarus Woodecker is merely a source of irritation and occasional amusement.  Until his younger brother, Gabriel, disappears and Cullen is left wondering if Gabriel will ever manage to find his way back home as well.

Like a lot of coming of age stories of this type, Where Things Come Back felt like it was trying too hard to be clever and introspective.  Also, the split in narrators was confusing (I suspect it was partly meant to be) and the missionary’s point of view felt forced rather than authentic. I know a lot of people loved it (it did win the Printz award after all) but I was more than happy to send my copy back to the library.

cover image for The Weight of WaterThe Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

Back in Poland, Kasienka had friends, a home, good grades, and both parents.  Now in England, she is an outsider, assumed behind in her studies because she doesn’t speak the language well, and lives in a barren, ramshackle apartment with a mother who refuses to believe that her husband has left her.

Told in verse, Kasienka’s story is honest and poignant.  A quick and easy read, it nevertheless covers a wide variety of topics, from friendship and bullying to keeping secrets from one’s parents.  Unlike some novels told in verse, the poems themselves feel both natural and like something a twelve year old might write.

cover image for Girl at SeaGirl at Sea by Maureen Johnson

For a brief few years of her childhood, Clio’s family was rich.  Her dad designed a board game (with Clio’s help) that became an instant hit, and before she knew it she and her father were off traveling the world.  But sound decisions had never been her father’s strength, a flaw that Clio learned the hard way when the money quickly ran out.  Now seventeen, Clio prefers her quiet life at home with her mother (divorced) and looks forward to spending as much of her summer break with her crush as possible.  But Clio’s mother has other plans – ones that involve Clio traveling once again with her father.  Clio’s father has plans as well – and that’s never a good sign.

Although Girl at Sea is a bit uneven and unpolished, it’s much better than it sounds like it ought to be.  Mainly because the conflict is not really at all about the money that was lost, but about the fact that it was lost because Clio’s father lacks basic adulting skills, and the more immediate consequences that had for Clio, as a minor in his care.

cover image for Star Wars: Jedi AcademyStar Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown

His whole life, Roan has looked forward to becoming a starfighter pilot, just like his father and older brother.  That means attending Pilot Academy Middle School.  So when Roan receives his rejection letter (recommended alternative school: Tatooine Agriculture Academy) he’s sure that he’s DOOMED to be nothing but a failure.  Until he receives a letter from the Jedi Academy in Coruscant as well, this one inviting him to enroll.  Is it possible that Roan has what it takes to be a Jedi?  And can learning to use the force replace his old dreams of being a pilot?

As ridiculous and hilarious as it sounds, this twist on the classic school story is sure to delight a great many pre-teen Star Wars fans.  It’s not nearly as clever or funny as Brown’s other Star Wars books, mostly because it repeats tropes and cliches rather than presenting them with twists, but it should keep it’s target audience entertained.

cover image for She Loves You, She Loves You NotShe Loves You, She Loves You Not by Julie Anne Peters

Alyssa hadn’t planned on coming out to her father and stepmother yet, that happened quite by accident.  Now she’s been shipped off to live with the biological mother she barely knows, in a small town far from her friends and the girl she loves.

Parts of this book were a little odd – such as Alyssa believing that her mother is a prostitute when she’s not – and this isn’t Peters’ best novel.  But the general premise is interesting and it’s a good perspective to make sure is included in library collections.

cover image for Here I AmHere I Am by Patti Kim

After a long plane ride, a young boy arrives in a new city, in a new country, full of unfamiliar words and sounds and places.  In his pocket, he’s brought a small piece of home.  When he accidentally drops it, and another child picks it up, will he lose his last treasure from home? Or make a new friend?

I thought this story was rather sweet, the illustrations were well done, and the decision to make it wordless fit the plot and themes perfectly.  I’m not sure how easily children would be able to parse the logic of the story; it’s definitely a picture book that is best for older children, younger children may require guidance or the opportunity to re-read the story several times.

cover image from Far From XanaduFar From Xanadu by Julie Anne Peters

Mike was born and raised in Coalton, Kansas.  She figures she’ll live the rest of her life there as well, and that’s just fine by her.  Until the day Xanadu walks into Mike’s life, and she begins to wonder if maybe there’s more out there for her to find.

This is by far one of my favorite novels by Peters.  There’s just something about the characters that felt very real and unforced.  There’s plenty of messed up people in this book, but also quite a few that are doing the best they can with what they’ve been given, and, of course, kids just trying to figure things out.

cover imafe for It's Our Prom (So Deal With It)It’s Our Prom (So Deal With It) by Julie Anne Peters

Prom is so very NOT Azure’s kind of thing.  It’s expensive, elitist, and not at all inclusive.  So when the principal asks her to be on the Prom committee she jumps at the chance to turn it into the kind of party she thinks it ought to be – and she convinces her two best friends, Luke and Radhika, to help her do so.  But when the school board hears just what Azure has in mind, they might change their minds about wanting her to be a part of planning this year’s prom.

It’s Our Prom (So Deal With It) is told alternating points of view, Azure and Luke’s, but it really felt like there should have been a third.  Not having Radhika’s point of view made the trio feel unbalanced, and it also meant the book spent a lot of time wondering why she was upset, who she liked, etc.  When, instead, it would have been much more interesting if it had focused more on how people would react to her confessions, and not just vice versa.  It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t spectacular, and could have been much better.

cover image for Moxie and the Art of Rule BreakingMoxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne

Moxie has always been good at following the rules: Don’t answer the door or have friends over when home alone. No using her T pass unless she has a friend or family member with her.  Be home by nine. Until the day Moxie slips up and opens the door to a dangerous looking stranger.  Now she has fourteen days to find the missing loot from a decades old museum heist – or the crooks who think her grandfather stole it will find a way to make her whole family pay.

The premise and plot are more than a little farfetched, but Dionne’s characters have depth and their relationships are nuanced.  I especially appreciated the allusions to classic middle grade mysteries like From the Mixed of Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Westing Game; they’re definitely part of what makes this book memorable as well as fun.

cover image for LunaLuna by Julie Anne Peters

Regan’s family has their share of problems…and secrets.  Whose doesn’t?  But it’s Luna, Regan’s sister, that has the biggest secret of all.  To everyone but Regan, Luna is Liam, her older brother, their parent’s son, a normal boy.  But at night, Luna becomes the person she knows she was meant to be. And Regan is the only one who knows.  How long can they keep this secret?  And what will happen to their family when it comes out?

This book was so very frustrating, because while I’m glad for any and every book that depicts transgender teens respectfully, and I understand Peters’ reasoning for not wanting to speak for Luna, I kept wanting to hear the story from her point of view.   The main theme of the story was to show people what it’s like to be Luna, but having a first person point of view that wasn’t hers meant that we always saw her through the eyes of others instead.

cover image for By the Time You Read This I'll Be DeadBy The Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters

Daelyn Rice needs to escape her life – and she knows the only way out is death.  She’s tried before but failed, and thus why she’s home schooled, why her parents hover, and why she knows this time has to be her last.

I hate being critical about books that tackle serious subjects, but the truth is this just wasn’t very well written.  Like much of Peters work, it wasn’t awful, and there were some poignant moments, but neither did it manage to be anything to get excited about.

cover image for Define "Normal"Define “Normal” by Julie Anne Peters

Antonia Dillon already has too much to do.  With her mother unable to function most days, it’s up to Antonia to make sure her brothers get fed, laundry gets done, and everyone stays alive – and that’s on top of her own school and homework.  So when Dr. DiLeo asks her to volunteer for peer counseling, the last thing she wants to do is say yes – despite how good it will look on her college applications.   And if she’d known she’d be assigned to counsel Jasmine Luther, she most definitely never would have agreed to do it.

This book may have been published in 2000, but it felt like it should be from the early 1990s.  It’s not quite an after school special – but it’s very, very close.  The conceit of asking readers to question who is more “normal” – Antonia, who teachers love but whose home life is falling apart, or Jazz, who teachers hate but who is cared for and confident of herself – is a laudable one.  Unfortunately, the Peters’ image of what is considered punk or outside the mainstream of teen culture seems to owe more to My So Called Life than anything from the same year.

cover image for BelowBelow by Meg McKinlay

“On the day Cassie was born, they drowned her town.”

(Sorry, the opening for this book is just so perfect, I had to steal it.)

Twelve year old Cassie has lived her entire life in New Lower Grange.  But before she was born, before the damn was built, her family’s house was in Old Lower Grange.  Then, with the flip of a switch, an entire town was buried in water, leaving Cassie wondering what secrets may lie hidden beneath the waves.

Intriguing and full of wonderfully written lines (see above, also: “When I got home, Dad had a finger in someone’s eye and another in their ear.” and “Liam was clever yesterday. While I was worried about being prosecuted, he was counting his strokes.”) Below is one of those novels that I wish had gotten more attention.  While not without flaws (McKinlay’s opening lines aren’t quite matched by the rest of her writing) it’s both different and yet not, in all the ways a middle grade book should be: unique in concept, but familiar when it comes to themes and relationships.

cover image for Zebrea ForestZebra Forest by Adina Rishe-Gewitz

Annie and her brother live with their grandmother, the father dead and their mother having abandoned them.  With Gran’s brooding spells getting worse, Annie has her hands full keeping up at school and keeping the social workers of their backs.  She and Rew find their own solace in stories they make up about the father they never knew.  Until a stranger arrives and holds them hostage, and Annie and Rew learn the truth of their father’s death.

I ranted about this book earlier this year.  The short version being that my problem wasn’t so much that Annie was quick to forgive her father, but that the book did an inadequate job of exploring why, and why this might not be the safest choice for her to make.  Also, the backstory about their parents is disturbing in ways that the narrative seems dangerously oblivious to.

cover image for DreamlandDreamland by Sarah Dessen

When Cassie ran away, Caitlin lost more than a sister.  Her parents shock and grief absorbs all their energy, leaving Caitlin without anyone to turn to.  Then Rogerson Biscoe walks into Caitlin’s life and suddenly she once again has someone who listens.  But who will Caitlin turn to when Rogerson turns out to be more dangerous than she suspected?

While abuse in romantic relationships is a topic that deserves a lot more attention than it gets (in YA literature and out of it) this is, unfortunately, not the most engaging problem novel ever.  Possibly because it is so clearly a problem novel rather than a typical Dessen story about interesting characters dealing with various interpersonal issues.  Although Dreamland is far from an after school special, neither is it quite what it could have been.

cover image for The Madness UnderneathThe Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

After the events of The Name of the Star [redacted for spoilers], Rory’s parents have been understandably overprotective.  Neither they, nor her new therapist, believe her when she tells them that she’s more than ready to go back to school. It doesn’t help, of course, that she can’t tell any of them what really happened, or why she so desperately wants to return to Wexford.

I definitely did not expect this book to end up going in the direction it did.  So while it suffered from the typical middle book lulls at certain points, it still managed to push the story along in interesting ways. And yes, it made me cry.  And no, I wasn’t expecting that either.

cover image for The Garden of My ImaanThe Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia

Aliya worries about getting her homework done. Avoiding bullies at school. When she’ll finally wear a bra like her friends.  If the holidays will be still be any fun now that her disapproving great aunt is coming to visit.  Now, on top of everything else, her Sunday school friends are asking if she’ll fast for Ramadan this year; Aliya doesn’t feel ready – but she doesn’t want to be a baby either.  And when a new muslim girl arrives at her elementary school, suddenly Aliya’s Glen Meadow classmates are full of questions about why Marwa wears a hijab and only eats halal, and why Aliya doesn’t.

The Garden of My Imaan is a typical middle grade story about friends and family and navigating one’s place in the world.  Except for all the ways in which it’s very much not your typical middle grade school story.  That is to say, except for the fact that it’s about a muslim girl whose household contains four generations of Indian Americans, rather than yet another Ramona Quimbly, Junie B. Jones, or Judy Moody.  What makes this story truly unique (although it shouldn’t be as unique as it is, alas) isn’t just the parts that make Aliya different from her literary peers, but the way that Zia keeps the story focused on Aliya and her dilemmas, rather than letting it become a Very Special Lesson for everyone else.

By the by – can we please stop saying things like “Aliya…may be a young Muslim girl of Indian descent, but her story is one that will resonate with readers of many backgrounds” when reviewing books that feature characters we rarely see in (Western) fiction?  That’s just insulting all around.  Why wouldn’t her story “resonate” with all kinds of readers?

cover image for Sticks and StonesSticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon

Normally “fair and balanced” is code for believing in false equivalency – and is the opposite approach from what one might want in a factual book about bullying.  But Bazelon has clearly done her homework here, and her purpose in showing both sides of the bullying story is to reflect statistical reality (bullies are as unique as any group of individuals), point out that children’s actions are often being used to excuse misguided adult priorities (bullying is sometimes a contributing factor in many suicides, but untreated mental illness is a bigger contributor to the same suicides), and to explore what kinds of remedies are actually most effective (zero tolerance policies tend to make it harder to help kids).

There are a few times when her language veers a bit too closely to the often victim blaming advice traditionally given to kids being bullied, but on the whole it’s a very humanizing and illuminating investigation.  The chapters on social media and effective anti-bullying programs are especially fascinating.  Most importantly, the emphasis throughout on the importance of considering entire communities (not just the most obvious problem children) and the whole child (not just their interaction with peers)  is an excellent example of what “fair and balanced” journalism should mean.  Highly recommended for everyone, especially anyone who is at all responsible for the care of children and teens.

cover image for Let's Go For a DriveLet’s Go for a Drive by Mo Willems

Piggie and Gerald are going to go for a drive.  Gerald has the plan, and Piggie has everything else they could possibly need – except for one, small, thing…

Have I mentioned lately how much I love this series?  They’re clever and funny, of course – this book in particular – but I also absolutely adore how Willems uses repetition to help new readers gain confidence with unfamiliar words and font and character’s body language to help children become more expressive readers.

cover image for Fat AngieFat Angie by e. E. Charlton-Trujillo

Fat Angie, according to her mother, needs to lose 29 pounds. At least.  Fat Angie’s therapist says that she needs to stop projecting her feelings of animosity onto others.  Her classmates think she should have followed through on killing herself.  As for Fat Angie herself, she just wants her sister to make it home from the war alive.  But maybe what Fat Angie really needs is someone who looks at her and sees someone witty and clever and beautiful.

For a good portion of this book I wasn’t sure what to make of it, especially as the third person narrative makes it unclear if Fat Angie is being referred to as such because of her own thoughts or because the author is presenting Angie only as other people see her.  What makes it work in the end, and part of what makes the book so good, is that how Angie thinks of herself and how other people see her is often the same thing.  That’s how lost and detached Angie is from her own life, and it’s also a measure of how much she has internalized the hatred directed at her.  That she can still function and move forward in the midst of all this is a testament to her strength.

cover image for Nothing Can Possibly Go WrongNothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks

Charlie’s ex-girlfriend has convinced their school to buy new cheerleader uniforms – with the money that was supposed to go to the science team. Nate has a plan though.  All they have to do is win the 6th annual Robot Rumble and collect their prize money.  But first, they have to build a battle bot that will crush the competition. And convince their parents to let them spend Thanksgiving weekend at the Robot Rumble in Atlanta instead of eating dinner with their families. Nothing could possibly go wrong…right?

I love love love this book. It’s hilarious. It’s about nerds. And evil cheerleaders – that turn out to be not so evil. And friends. And family.  And teamwork.


cover image for DogsDogs by Emily Gravett

Do you love dogs? I love dogs.  All kinds of dogs. Big ones, little ones. Slow dogs and fast dogs.  And so does our narrator – who isn’t quite what you expect!

Using opposites and her signature humorous style, Emily Gravett shows us a wide variety of pooches to admire and delight over.  As wonderful as the canines themselves are, it’s the surprise at the end that gives Dogs that extra something that makes Gravett’s books so memorable.

cover image for Igraine the BraveIgraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke

All Igraine has ever wanted to be was a knight.  Instead, she’s stuck with a family of magicians.  Her parents don’t discourage her hopes, but they really wish she’d pay more attention to her magical studies.  But when Osmund the Greedy shows up at the castle door right after a failed spell turned both her parents (temporarily) into pigs, will it be up to Igraine to save the day?

This book and I did not click, at all.  I don’t know if it was the book or me, but I just kept wanting it to all be over.  If it was a longer book, I wouldn’t have bothered to finish it.

cover image for Moneky and MeMonkey and Me by Emily Gravett

A little girl and her stuffed monkey pretend to be all kinds of animals.  What will they be next?  Turn the page and see!  But watch out, because all this jumping and swinging around makes little girls very tired…

Monkey and Me isn’t quite as witty as some of Gravett’s other books, but it’s playfulness and repetitive structure make it perfect for little ones.

cover image for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your AssYaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

One morning, out the blue, a classmate tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, much less why she wants to fight Piddy.  The first thing Piddy quickly learns as she searches for answers – and a way out – is that Yaqui Delgado is not someone you want to as an enemy.

As more teen fiction novels about bullying are published, I’m becoming more critical of them.  Thankfully, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is very well done.  It shows just how damaging bullying can be, and talks about why victims are hesitant to ask adults for help.  It also – to a certain extent – centers the bullying Piddy experiences within the larger violence that’s done to teens and their communities, an aspect of bullying that needs more adult attention.