“Bystander” Reviewed, Sort of, by Author Andrew Smith

Author Andrew Smith, in addition to writing YA novels and teaching in a high school, writes a lively, informative, open-hearted blog. He’s nothing if not tireless. Though we’ve never met, Andrew and I seem to share a lot in common. We publish with Feiwel and Friends, have more than half-a-dozen brothers between us, blog regularly, love music — and we both share the (fading) dream of one day becoming catwalk models for Dolce & Gabbana.

Andrew’s debut book, Ghost Medicine, earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was listed as an ALA Best Books for Young Adults. But that’s nothing. VOYA said, “This book is a pitch-perfect coming-of-age tale destined to be held aloft alongside other classics of young adult literature. The story flows like stark, lovely poetry shared by best friends around a mountainside campfire.”

Great review. My only quibble is that whenever I’ve sat around a mountainside campfire with friends — which I did a few nights ago, in Vermont — the only things we shared that “flowed” came in cans, and it sure wasn’t “stark, lovely poetry.” (I must be hanging out with the wrong class of campers.)

His upcoming book is titled In the Path of Falling Objects (September, 2009). Man, I love that title. There it is, already a suggestion of menace, of trouble coming, violence. Yet at the same time, flat, even-handed, clear. Just a sign on the side of the road. First paragraph:

The only shade there is blackens a rectangle in the dirt beneath the overhang of the seller’s open stall. The girl stands there, behind a row of hanging wooden skeletons that dangle from the eaves.

Nice, right? The specificity and clarity of the language. The concreteness. A whiff of Cormac McCarthy there, don’t you think?

Anyway, last week Andrew blogged about my upcoming book, Bystander. He began by talking about his desire to highlight that rare, most misunderstood of creatures, the book for boys. While I don’t see Bystander as exclusively for boys — I sure hope it’s not, as compared to, say, Six Innings, which pretty much is — the book does center on the male variants of middle school bullying (with a crucial female character, Mary O’Malley, going through her own thorny friendship issues and cyber-struggles).

Andrew hopes to continue to feature books for boys in upcoming posts, so you may wish to bookmark his most excellent blog. He writes of Bystander:

If you’re a middle-school teacher, I think you should buy an entire class set of James Preller’s Bystander, a tense, suspenseful, fast-paced study of bullies, their victims, and the consequences involved with being a “bystander.”

Ultimately, bullying connects all of these players, whether they see themselves as intentional participants or not . . . . Every boy who’s gone through junior high and high school has found himself in these same situations that Preller sets down so clearly in Bystander. The real value for boys here, I think, is the no-nonsense realism of the plot: There are no tidy and clear-cut answers; and just being “good” isn’t always good enough.

Boys are going to love the fast-paced arc of this story. The first 20 pages build so much understated tension that it’s impossible to stop reading. Most importantly, Bystander is a powerful and valuable resource for any school looking for additional perspectives on educating kids about bullying.

Recommended for ages 10 and above.

Thanks, Andrew!

NOTE: I have to say this. I recognize that at its worst, the kidlitosphere is filled with back-slapping and suspect praise. A cynical reading would deduce that we all read each other’s books and blogs, and praise each other, so that we in turn will “earn” some praise, that we’re an inbred group, that we’re a “we” at all, and that it all amounts to a swirling vortex of sycophantical blather. I get that. I really do. And I guess you could submit all of the above as evidence of that crime. But, but, but. In the end, as my father would say, you have to consider the source. And judge for yourself. I now throw myself on the mercy of the court.

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