What makes a bully? A set of instructions is interspersed with writings of the victim in this unusual book on a hot topic.
The Bully Book, by Eric Kahn Gale
Harper, ISBN: 978 0 062 12513 2
Designed as a found notebook with two sets of pages intermingled, The Bully Book tells the story of a bullying episode from both sides at once to very revealing effect. The eponymous book is actually a set of instructions that has been passed down mysteriously through the years among the students of one school, and the extra pages are pages from the notebook of the latest victim selected, who tells his story of trying to figure out what was going on and why, and finally tracks down the book’s original author.
One of the interesting things about this book is that in this case, the bullies set out specifically to be bullies – on purpose – to maximize their own social status by crushing someone else into the dirt. it’s an interesting concept – and certainly, this sort of social bullying is nothing new, but this is made excruciatingly intentional rather than being a sort of instinctual form of jockeying for social position or boosting self-esteem in the same way. I don’t love that about it – my favourite book on bullying has long been Jerry’ Spinelli’s Crash, in which the bully talks about his life and the expectations on him, and how he’s not always sure why he does what he does. I like the different point of view there, and I think it’s more realistic than something so pointedly wrong as this title portrays. What the obvious intent does do, though, is make the two sides much more cut and dried, and create two voices that are on directly opposite sides of the fence, making it clear and less nuanced for a middle school reader.
In the end, I think the hope, both within the story and for those who read it, is that with understanding of the effect the bullying had will come empathy and an unwillingness in another tween to follow that path themselves. it’s one that is being much discussed in schools, and definitely would spark some good discussion when read and talked over with a child in the 10 to 14 year range. Bullying is a big topic these past several years, and a book like this is a nice entry point into addressing it.