I was 11 years old when my parents told me that we were moving to Los Angeles. I was thrilled, of course. Television had taught me that Los Angeles is the land of palm trees and sunshine and movie stars, and I’d have the time of my life. Or so I thought.
Starting a new school in the middle of the year is never easy, but starting in the middle of grade 6 is a nightmare all of its own. My fellow students had grown up together and their cliques were well established. I was put on display like a museum exhibit, and after a brief stare-down and some whispered conferencing, I was crucified and left to flounder. I was a hick from the Midwest with the wrong clothes and the wrong hair. I couldn’t compete with their Van Halen T-shirts (pre-vintage) and jelly shoes, nor did I even know where to begin. I’d need a complete makeover.
My daughter is entering grade 6 in September and I’m worried. She’s attending the same school that she always has, but one thing is different: she wants a cell phone. Bullying has reached a whole new level with the introduction of technology—grumble, grumble, curse, curse. Good lord, give me strength.
I hate to say it, but I miss the good ol’ days of face-to-face bullying. It takes bravado to say something directly to another person’s face. At least you can’t deny accountability. Cyber-bullying is too easy for those who wish to remain behind the safety of their screens. It’s just as cruel, but has the added insult of going viral. Long gone are the days of minor incidents that blow over in a day or two. Just ask the tiny community of Adamsville, Alabama, in Sarah Bannan’s new book Weightless.
Everybody knows everybody in Adamsville (AKA, small town USA). And they should: they’ve been together since they were born. They are football strong, God-fearing people, and cheerleaders marry ball players and nerd girls marry nerd boys and they all give birth to the next generation of sports stars and geeks: endless cycle, no interruptions.
Enter Carolyn Lessing.
Beautiful, confident Carolyn Lessing. Nothing shakes up a small town like the arrival of a new family. Carolyn, despite her kind nature, becomes public property—someone to speculate about and gossip over; someone who probably shouldn’t have caught the attention of Shane, the star quarterback.
The community couldn’t help but worship her, but dating Shane (they all agreed), was a vital error on her behalf. Didn’t Carolyn recognize that small towns have expectations? Doesn’t she know that Shane’s future is predetermined?
And just in case there were any doubts about her relationship with Shane, a video of them in a …ahem… compromising position surfaces and goes viral within minutes. Carolyn becomes the enemy, someone “worthy” of name-calling and shaming. Shane, of course, suffers no such sentence. He returns to his rightful place (at the side of the head cheerleader) and is no worse for wear.
Weightless is an authentic, albeit voyeuristic look behind the gates of a self-proclaimed religious and moralistic small town. Told in the voice of the bystander—a bully’s equally guilty partner—it will cause you to shudder over the impact of hearsay, gossip, and outright vicious lies on underserving victims, and the colour of their tormentors’ hearts. Grab your backpacks ladies; we’re going back to high school.
Sarah Bannan is the Head of Literature at the Irish Arts Council. Weightless is her first novel. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015.