Archive for the ‘Bullying’ Category

Former police officer Carol Jordan is pulled over for drunk driving, despite being on a deserted country road, less than a mile from her house. Having no one else to bail her out, she calls Tony Hill, psychologist, friend, once very close friend. Driving her home, he decides an intervention is needed, as many of Jordan’s former colleagues are concerned about her drinking. He indicates that he’s staying the night, and to make sure she doesn’t take another drink, he empties her cabinets without even asking.

Simultaneous to this incident, John Brandon and several other high ranking officials have decided that an overriding Murder Investigating Team is needed, covering several precincts which don’t have much expertise in investigating murders. And who better to lead the charge than Jordan. However, that means doing something about her drunk driving arrest. Jordan’s choice is essentially accept the new position, come out of retirement and get her arrest expunged or face the consequences of losing her license. What choices is there, really?SplinterTheSilence

Jordan recruits her select team, many of whom have worked for her before, such as Stacey Chen (master at the computer), Paula McIntyre (interviewer extraordinaire) and Tony. She and Tony also decide the team needs something to whet their teeth and suggests they look at the recent apparent suicide of an outspoken feminist who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in her garage. Beside her was a book a poetry. Something just doesn’t feel right to Tony and Carol has learned to trust Tony’s instincts.

Despite the fact that this is an ongoing series and I hadn’t read any of the previous books, Splinter the Silence was totally enjoyable. You know that I like mysteries where the characters have a life and tend to grow over the course of the series and you can feel that in Splinter the Silence.

There’s certainly death in this book but it’s not gruesome and it’s not the point of the story, which is catching the killer. And of course in this day and age, computers are a main mechanism in identifying and locating people. The ending is both happy and sad (hey, that’s life). There are enough twists and turns to satisfy all mystery readers.

I like Val McDermid’s books and Splinter the Silence is no exception.


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ReadBetweenTheLinesRead Between the Lines by Jo Knowles got good reviews from library journals including a starred review from Kirkus, so it was with high hopes that I began reading. I had wanted to read it for a while. I had previously read See You at Harry’s which I thought was pretty good.

Ms. Knowles stated that the idea for the book germinated with an incident in which a driver gave her and her family the ‘middle finger’. It annoyed her even more than it would normally have except that he was in the wrong to begin with. So, as you can guess by the cover art, Read Between the Lines is all about that middle finger.

I will admit that I was somewhat disappointed with the book. It is comprised of several disparate stories that tenuously come together, sort of, in the end. Nate is bullied at school (and at home, to some extent) and in a rough game of dodge ball in gym, he breaks his middle finger and has to wear a splint. Everyone is somewhat jealous that he can give everyone the middle finger without really giving them the middle finger.

Claire is tired of ‘the girls’ and wonders if there is more to life than gossiping about everyone. Dewey bullies his next door neighbors because they are a lot messier than he is. He and his father began being ‘neat’ in hopes that the mother/wife who left them might come back. Now they’re anal about it. But their neighbors don’t mow their lawn and actually the mother is a hoarder. So, of course, Dewey is going to give them the finger.

There are more vignettes along these lines: bullying, giving the fingers, scamming, hopefulness, hopelessness, sexuality, peer pressure, etc. Everything takes place in the course of one day and, as a result, about midway through the book, lives start intersecting. But these intersections and their conclusions, at least to me, were unsatisfying, especially the last one regarding a sexy, new English teacher, Ms. Lindsay.

Ms. Knowles gets her point across and Read Between the Lines would be a good discussion book middle schoolers and young high schoolers.

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There are books that you don’t put down because you are obligated to read them, either because of a Positiveschool assignment or a journal review, which was the case with the book I read before Positive: A Memoir. Then there are the books you don’t put down because they are so good or so absorbing you want to/need to keep reading, which is the case with Paige Rawl’s story of the middle school bullying she faced and overcame because of her HIV+ status.

At the age of three, Paige and her mother were diagnosed HIV+. Her mother contracted it through Paige’s father and passed it on to her. Their lives would never be the same. There was the regimen of pills to counteract the HIV,  and pills to  moderate the depression and loss of appetite caused by the medication. But that was their lives and Paige knew nothing different. To her, her disability or illness was no different than someone with asthma or allergies. So when she mentioned it to her best friend, Yasmine, in passing (“everyone has something”) the reaction was so unexpected. Within minutes, this knowledge was spread to other students who lost no time in ridiculing her, calling her Ho and PAID, telling her she has AIDS and making life miserable.

We all know the impact of bullying on teens. We read it in the newspapers all the time. Teen suicide is on the rise. Cutting is becoming more prevalent. It was no different with Paige. She went through all these emotions. We also know that schools are ill equipped to counteract bullying, as was Paige’s school. One counselor told her to ‘just don’t tell anyone you’re HIV+”. Another told her “to cut the drama”. She was unable to get satisfaction through our legal system as well, unable to get a trial in order to make her situation public.

Luckily for Paige, she was able to overcome this. She had a very supportive mother and some great friends who stood by her.

Listen, in my mind, bullying doesn’t even have to be directed at a person. Even commenting amongst ourselves is a form of bullying. If you see an effeminate man and make comments to your co-workers, that’s a form a bullying. If you see a man dressed in women’s clothing and whisper, that’s a form of bullying, only because you are not seeing what’s inside that person and you’re denigrating him. And what’s the next step you might take? Openly commenting?

Positive: A Memoir is a low key, eye opening book. Paige is the exception to the rule. She ultimately chose to be an anti-bullying activist and tell people her story. Most young adults aren’t able to make that leap. Most suffer alone, afraid to tell an adult or having told someone, watch as nothing is done, no or minimal action taken.

With an Introduction by Jay Asher and a list of resources and facts at the end, Positive: A Memoir is a quietly powerful book.

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FallingIntoPlaceIt is amazing to me that anyone can write a book; that they have ideas that they can verbalize for 200 pages and make people want to read them. The fact that a high school student can write a book, and a good one at that, is even more amazing to me. But Amy Zhang did it with Falling Into Place.

Liz Emerson is a high school junior when she plows her mother’s Mercedes into a tree at high speed—on purpose. Unfortunately the attempted suicide failed, at first. A boy who has loved her from afar since 5th grade, Liam, saw the wreckage on the side of the road and called 911. The paramedics come and transport her to the hospital. There is extensive bodily damage, as you can imagine, and several surgeries are required. It is touch and go.

What Zhang did with this book is delve into why Liz is what she is–a bully, an in-crowd bully. No one is immune to her barbs and her influence, even her best friends Julia and Kennie. The chapters go back and forth in time. There’s a chapter “55 Days Before Liz Emerson Crashed Her Car” and then “5 Days…” and then “45 Days…” There are chapters after the accident. There is an unknown narrator in some chapters marked “Snapshot”. However, it works.

Zhang clearly delineates between the kids who truly care about Liz (Liam, Julia and Kennie) and status seeking friend wannabees who visibly weep, congregate at the hospital and talk about how wonderful Liz is. Liz is a real person who sees what she is, wants to change but can’t. She wants to make amends but doesn’t know how. The parents in Falling Into Place do not come off well in this book. They are absent, unobservant, domineering and the impact on their children is evident.

Readers will like the people they’re supposed to like (Liz being among these) and dislike those they were meant to dislike.

If Zhang can write a book like Falling Into Place as a high schooler, imagine what she’ll write as she matures and hones her craft. Read this so you can say you knew her when (and because it’s worth reading!).


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ConfessionsOfASoCalledMiddleChildCharlie C. Cooper did such an horrendous thing at the end of sixth grade, she brought shame to her family, was expelled from school and her family had to move so she could attend a different school. Her punishment was being grounded all summer and seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Scales. Everyone will admit she made great progress over the summer and she was sure she could start anew, sans therapy, in her new school. Well, she was almost right.

In order to solidify her transformation, Dr. Scales had a teeny, tiny project for her before she was free of him. On the first day of school, she must befriend the most bullied girl in her class. Everyone knows that such a task can be social suicide for a twelve year old…or anyone for that matter. But, Charlie, being a ‘glass half full’ kinda girl figured out that she could do it and still be in the in-crowd. The question is can she, especially when that girl is called Marta the Farta?

I’ll admit, it took me a while to like Charlie C. Cooper, but I ended up really liking her. I like glass half full kinds of people.

Maria T. Lennon has filled Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child with great characters beginning with Marta and Charlie, Charlie’s siblings and Trixie and Babs, the top of the rung kids. The storyline is different from your normal ‘bully’ book and Lennon fills it with True Facts (are there any untrue facts?), such as “When you’ve finally hit upon the right course of action, the stars align.”

I’ll also admit readers might need to suspend their belief a little when reading Confessions, but that’s OK. Not all bully books need to read like text books. If you’re looking for a cute book about bullying to recommend to middle school girls, why not give this book a shot. It’s different and it’s fun.

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ThisSongWillSaveYourLifeSince this was in last Sunday’s New York Times book review, I thought I’d add my two cents.

In this debut novel by Leila Sales, sixteen-year-old Elise Dembowski is invisible most of the time and taunted the other times. A driven teenager, she spent the summer reading teen and fashion magazines, listening to gossip, learning how to dress and what to talk about, all in the hopes that come September she’d fit in, have friends. However, on the first day of school, nothing has changed, so she left early, went home and feebly attempted suicide by slitting her wrists. Sitting in the bathroom bleeding through a bandage she put on, she called a girl she wanted to be friends with, Amelia Kindl, who immediately called 911, which started a chain of events including therapy.

Fast forward seven months and Elise (still nothing has changed), who splits her time between her divorced parents’ houses, finds it hard to sleep so she sneaks out at night to walk the neighborhood. One night two girls beckon her over, thinking she was looking for the dance club, Start. Following them inside, Elise is in awe and, getting introduced to the DJ, realizes that’s something she would love to do.

I must say that This Song Will Save Your Life reminded DerbyGirlme a bit of Derby Girl by Shauna Cross, which I really liked (young misfit teen finds something she’s passionate about but is too young to pursue it without parental consent). Readers will immediately like Elise and feel her pain. They’ll also like Vicki (read the book to find out who she is). They’ll understand Elise’s desire for recognition, acceptance, friends and her inability, at times, to recognize who her friends really are. Sales is a talented writer and if this book is any indication, I can’t wait for her next book. It’s a fun story on a serious issue.

And….there’s a bonus; a playlist at the back of the book. So, now I’m off to find some CDs with songs mentioned on the playlist.

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A.S. King tackles two significant topics in Everybody Sees the Ants. The first is the status of the Missing in EverybodySeesTheAntsAction in our sundry wars and the second is bullying. Known recently for her highly praised Ask the Passengers, King’s 2011 novel centers on Lucky Linderman who has been bullied by Nader McMillan since he was seven years old when Nader peed on Lucky in a restaurant restroom and escalated to rubbing Lucky’s face in the concrete by the local community pool when Lucky was fifteen forming a scab that started out taking the shape of Ohio and diminishing to various other states before finally healing.

AskThePassengersTwo underlying themes include Lucky’s proposed (but vetoed) social studies project, a survey of the student body with the question “If you were going to commit suicide, what method would you use?” This, of course, spurred the school’s administration into action, suggesting that Lucky seek professional help…thus avoiding the issues surrounding why kids would want to commit suicide to begin with.

The second is Lucky’s grandfather, Harry, who is a Vietnam veteran missing in action. His grandmother, Janice, was an MIA advocate and refused repeated governmental attempts to have her agree to change his status to presumed dead. On her deathbed when Lucky was seven, she made him promise to find Harry. Of course, Lucky had no clue as to what this meant, but it started a series of unusual dreams.

We are all familiar with bullying (this book was excerpted in an audio CD on bullying…that’s how it came to my attention). King created a bully we can all visualize in Nader. There is no person unscathed from his actions. Compounded by Lucky’s inactive parents, he has no recourse but to ‘take it’.

We are less cognizant of the fact that there remain MIA veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

King’s characters’ lives vary, in many ways making us realize that we all have shit to deal with and while we may have it rough, there are people who have it rougher, although on the outside everything looks fine. King makes her point on both counts with an entertaining book, interesting characters and fine writing. You can read Everybody Sees the Ants for the enjoyment or for a purpose, but in either event, you’ll have a good read.

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BrutalIn this day and age when things are fast and new becomes old quickly, we tend to forget about books that aren’t on the best seller list. It’s nice, on occasion, to remind ourselves of some of the good books out there and Brutal by Michael Harmon is one that we should remember. An audio excerpt was on a CD about bullying, which is what first brought it to my attention.

Harmon’s dedication says it all. “This novel was written for all teenagers out there who have the courage to stand up for something they believe to be true, and the willingness to overcome mistakes made in trying to make a difference in this world. It’s also for the parents, teachers, and administrators who listen to them.”

Poe (named after Edgar Allan) Holly is new at Benders High School in Benders Hollow, CA, having moved in with a father she hasn’t seen in sixteen years when her surgeon mother decides to spend a year in South America helping to the people there. What Poe sees as she navigates her first few days at Benders High is the inequality among students: the sports team members are high on the totem pole, followed by cheerleaders and the championship choir. Lowest of the low are the geeks and dorks, some of whom literally get beaten to a pulp. She tries to convince her guidance counselor father that school rules, to some extent, foster this inequality, but he’s not on board yet. It can be something simple like football team members can wear their jerseys to gym instead of the authorized ‘gym uniform’ to something more severe such as the football star beating up a kid and getting away with it. Poe is out to make things right.

Having an affinity for non-conformists, I really like Poe, who dresses Goth or whatever fashion suits her, and I’m sure most readers will. She teams up with Theo, the mayor’s son and another outcast, making an interesting couple. She’s certainly got her own demons to conquer as she grows up and tries to exert herself, but as a sixteen year old, she’s making a great start.

In this era when it seems to me kids are apathetic and when bullying, especially bullying via social media is dominating the news, it’s refreshing to know that someone cares and one person can make a difference. Brutal is a quick, enjoyable read.

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Bullies come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes we forget that. Some of our adult library patrons are bullies and we hesitate standing up to them. ReluctantJournalOfHenryKLarsenSo imagine how a high schooler who has been subjected to bullying for years might feel. Well, Jesse Larsen was one such teen and he did something about it that affected himself, his family, his school and his community.

In the aftermath if IT, as Henry K. Larsen refers to it in his Reluctant Journal (only written because his therapist suggested it might help), Henry explains how everyone feels and the lasting impact of his brother’s murder/suicide at the local high school. One parent won’t talk about it. The other parent is hospitalized for depresssion. Henry’s best friend, the sister of the bully, isn’t allowed to talk to him any more. Friends stopped being friends and instead became antagonistic. There are feelings of guilt. Another consequence: Henry’s family crumbled. He and his father moved to a new city where Henry could/had to start over again making friends, dealing with the tragedy.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen is another entry on the important topic of bullying. Henry is only a high school freshman. He’s a little chubby and nerdy. Of course, cliques are already established at school and he, unavoidably, joins the geek clique…which is subject to bullying. Susin Nielson has written for such TV series as DiGrassi and knows how to reach the middle school/lower high school audience. The characters, although somewhat stereotypical, are ones you root for (at least the good guys). The dilemma of “telling a parent or teacher” is touched on. The feelings of guilt are a major factor in the book. Whose fault are these tragedies?

In the instant news world we live in, it seems like every minute there’s a news article on Yahoo or Facebook or Twitter about bullying. I’m sure we all know some family that has been affected by bullying. I don’t think there can ever be enough good books on the subject and The Reluctant Jouranl of Henry K. Larsen, winner of the Canada Council for the Arts Governor General’s Literary Award, joins a growing list of worthwhile books on a difficult subject.

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I’m not one of those people who keeps track of the number of books I read. To me, it’s not a contest. And many times, by year’s end, I forget the books I read at the beginning of the year and wonder whether I’ll have to scramble to come up with 10 books. So it was a nice surprise that I had 9 books which I gave the top rating of 5 in Librarything. What was even nicer, was that there were even more 4s, so 2012 was a darn good reading year from my perspective.

Reading’s a personal thing, as you know and there are a myriad of factors that go into enjoying a book: your mood when you read it, your favorite author, impeccable wording, an engrossing plot, believable characters. These top 10 books have it all: I was in the right mood, it was my favorite author (or singer, in one instance), the plots ranged from family, to heroism, to illness and the characters were pretty much all people I would like to meet. So, here goes:

SmallDamagesAlthough the top 5 are all magnificent books, I’ll always put a Beth Kephart book on the top of the list. She’s an incredible author whose words, many times, are poetic and lyrical and she outdid herself in Small Damages about a young pregnant girl who finds out that the true meaning of family isn’t always biological. If you read one of Beth’s books, you’ll find you have to read them all.

John Green’s Fault in Our Stars takes us through the harrowing ordeal of cancer but the love and friendship and perseverence that its characters exhibit is incomparable. It might just make you shed a tear. I described it as a book of strength, of philosophy, of humor and determination. It is all of those and more.

At the end of Wonder by R. J. Palacio, Mr. Tushman, Director of Beecher Prep School, Wonderaddresses the 5th grade/6th grade classes with a quote from J. M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird: “Shall we make a new rule of life…always try to be a little kinder than is necessary.” That is the theme of this gem of a book. It is the realistic story of a boy born with a serious facial deformity, overcoming the odds by mainstreaming into the local school. Told from various points of view, once you start it, you won’t put it down.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein comes in at number 4. It is a touching story about two young girls during World War II, one a pilot and the other a spy behind enemy lines in France, if you will. Their heroism and their friendship, while to them small, is huge. It is not like any other war story you’ve read. It is captivating (no pun intended) from the beginning.

LeaveYourSleepRounding out the top 5 is Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep. A five year labor of love, Merchant put to music children’s poetry written from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s and released a wonderful CD of the same name. She then, with illustrator Barbara McClintock, published a book with some of the poetry and beautiful illustrations. I’ve heard Merchant sing these poems several times in concert and have the CD, and as she said ““Poetry speaks of so much: longing and sadness, joy and beauty, hope and disillusionment…But poetry on the page can be difficult to penetrate; sometimes it needs to be heard.” But once heard, reading it and seeing the colorful illustrations adds a whole new perspective.

Since this is getting long, I’ll briefly mention the next 5:

The Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale: if you’re the “grunt” who gets picked on, you want to find the Bully Book and destroy it. Bullying seems to be an epidemic and Gale tries to reverse the tide in this excellent book.

Period 8 by Chris Crutcher: Crutcher seems to have found his stride again in this honest book about honesty and relationship. Not as ‘in your face’ as Whale Talk or Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (my two favorites), it’s still up there with his best.

Stay With Me by Paul Griffin: Violence is a fact of life to some people. Some people are good and some aren’t and what happens to them doesn’t always make sense. Stay With Me had me rivited and, it indeed, did bring on a tear or two.

NoCrystalStairNo Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson: A marvelous picture book and more about Nelson’s great-uncle Lewis Michaux, a driving force for educating Blacks in Harlem. Michaux started out with nothing and built a tremendous bookstore in Harlem that attracted the likes of Malcolm X.

Almost Home by Joan Bauer: Bauer is one of the foremost writers for middle school readers and her stories are uplifting. In Almost Home Sugar Mae Cole survives her mother’s depression and a foster home by spouting the words of her grandfather, King Cole. A must read–plus the dog on the cover is adorable.AlmostHome

And the last of them are:

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Ask the Passenger by A. S. King

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

I read so many more great books in 2012, but this is the best of the best, to me. I hope you enjoy some of them.

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