Happy Halloween, everyone! I don't have a creepy, gothic Halloween-y tale to share with you today, but that's not to say that I didn't read a book about something scary. There's not much scarier than a school bully, or a grown-up bully, or, well, any bully at all, and Dear Bully is chock full of them...
The statistics are staggering, jaw-dropping things. "Every seven minutes a child is bullied on a school playground, with more than eighty-five percent of those instances occurring without any intervention." Sure, everybody has probably dealt with a bully or been a bully sometime in their life, but bullying is so ingrained in our consciousness that it's foolishly viewed as some twisted rite of passage, a character-building opportunity to emerge on the other side as a stronger, thicker-skinned person, a person better equipped to deal with the difficult people life is guaranteed to throw at you.
Instead, though, we have hundreds of thousands of kids who are terrified to go to school lest they be bullied. Instead, we have kids who have been so isolated and demeaned by bullies at school and online that "a child commits suicide once every half hour" and more than 100,000 who bullies have made to feel so powerless that they feel they need to carry guns to school. If merciless torture of anyone who is even the slightest bit different is a rite of passage, then it is surely a rite that is far too heavy a burden on kids growing up today. Dear Bully is a compilation of 70 stories from YA authors about their experiences with bullying both as the bullied and as the bully. It is an assurance to kids that have been made to feel totally alone that they aren't and call to action for a nation that has turned a blind eye to bullying for too long.
The stories in Dear Bully come from a variety of well-known YA authors including Lauren Oliver, R.L. Stine, Alyson Noel, Megan McCafferty, and many more come in a variety of forms, as poetry, as stories, as letters, and even in pictures. Each is powerful in its own way, and the collection as a whole runs the full gamut of emotions, causing horror at the cruelty kids are capable of, tears at the bravery and kindness of those courageous few who were willing to step into the crosshairs of bullies to rescue their friends, and even smiles of relief at these many talented authors who emerged from their torturous days of middle and high school to take refuge in and write stories that would help the kids that they once were learn that the lies bullies tell couldn't be further from the truth.
If I have one complaint about some of the stories, it is that they depict mind-blowing abuse, show teachers and parents ignoring or brushing off bullying situations, describe how totally isolating bullying can be and then exhort kids to step up to stop it. While I understand the sentiment, this is one of the things that is so easy to write about in hindsight but so difficult to do at the time of the bullying. It's easy to say that you should tell the teacher or you should befriend the bullied or you should stand up to the bully, and really these are the kinds of things that should be done and should make a difference. That said, after you've just told a story where a bully beat you up or told atrocious lies about you that alienated all your friends, and the teacher said, "pull yourself together" when told the situation, it seems like a pretty hard sell to get kids to take a stand.
Aside from this one gripe that only applies to a few of the pieces, I would say that this collection is a must read for everyone who has ever dealt with a bully, been a bully, had a friend or a child who is or might be a victim of a bully's cruelty. The stories succeed in showing bullied kids that they aren't alone, that things do get better. Others reveal the intense regret that schoolyard bullies might one day come to feel once they emerge from an environment where being unique couldn't be more wrong. All endeavor to show kids that regardless of the pain words might inflict, they are worthwile and loved, that it's possible to stand up for themselves, and that doing what's right, even when it might be downright terrifying, can be the most liberating of all.
(Thanks to Eric and Co. at Planned TV Arts for sending me a copy of Dear Bully for review!)