“Bystander” Reviewed: The Reading Zone, etc.

My thanks to Sarah at The Reading Zone for her thoughtful review of Bystander, which you can read in full here.

I thought this passage was particularly interesting:

What I really loved about this book is the fact that it doesn’t end with the teacher or another adult solving the problem and dealing with the bullies.  Eric and his friends need to decide for themselves how to handle the situation.  As a teacher, I admit to being a little frustrated at first when I read the last page.  But then I realized it is exactly what tween are looking for.  They don’t need us stepping in all the time and solving their problems.  They need to learn how to work within their own cliques and peer groups.  As much as we might want to see the bully “get what he deserves,” that isn’t always realistic and kids know that.  So kudos to James Preller!

The ending to this book has gotten some attention, not all of it positive, in part because there is no clear (or happy?) resolution. Though I contend that many loose ends can be inferred: most of Griffin’s friends have started distancing themselves from him, Griffin is involved in petty crime and we know that the police are investigating, and Eric and Mary have gained new insights and strength. Note that bullying tends to peak in middle school, whereas in high school many of the Griffin types tend to lose their group appeal (upon which their behavior depends).

But, no, Bystander is not a revenge fantasy in the mold of “Inglourious Basterds.” (Loved that movie, btw.)

From the outset, I was determined to avoid the easy wrap-up, the unrealistic solution — mostly because that’s what I was writing against, all those simplistic “bully books” that tied everything up in a neat bow. I just don’t think it helps to pretend these are simple issues with clear resolutions. At the same time, I do understand that fiction depends upon artifice: most of us thirst for that big payoff at the end. I recall the famous test screenings for “Fatal Attraction,” when the audiences clearly wanted to see Glenn Close get it, and in as horrific a manner possible, before the credits rolled (and the studios listened — and made gobs of money, too; to read more on that, click here and scroll down to “alternative ending”).

In my book, Eric’s father doesn’t magically appear to save the day. Griffin, the book’s antagonist, doesn’t seem to have learned any big lessons. But look at the book’s title. That’s the focus here — with the silent majority — and, I believe, where there’s the best hope for meaningful progress. It’s not unlike the world wide war on terror, in the sense that there’s no easy victories to be won and it’s a disservice to pretend otherwise; Afghanistan (or Iraq, or Iran, or Pakistan,  etc.) can’t be fixed in twelve months or five years. The struggle is ongoing. It’s not something that can be definitively “won” and walked away from, mission accomplished, satisfied with a problem removed.

On a related note, there was a recent discussion over at Read Roger, titled “too damned long,” about the length of book reviews. Opines Mr. Sutton, who is a master at stirring the pot:

Vine reviews, customer reviews, and, sorry, blog reviews–they are all too damned long. That’s the problem I have with ‘em. Just because the technology allows one to prattle on forever should by no means encourage one to do so.

As an author, still fairly new to the world of reviews — none of the books in my paperback Jigsaw Jones series, with 40 titles, ever got a print review as far as I know — I confess that I find myself unimpressed with many reviews, print or otherwise. But the most disappointing is the brief review, which amounts to a quickie plot summary with an opinion-based sentence tagged on at the end. I guess those reviews serve a purpose, but where’s the thought, the engagement? So if anyone wants to write at length about a book, good or bad — and here’s somebody who consistently takes the care to do it extremely well — I for one appreciate the effort, both as a reader looking for books and as someone who has perpetrated more than a few myself.

In our time of Twitter book reviews — thumbs up or thumbs down in 140 characters or less — I want to thank you, again, Sarah, for not only reading my book but for giving it your time and consideration. It was also nice to see you purchased your copy — ca-ching! Baby needs a new iPod nano.

Oh, yes, one last thought that pertains to bullying, from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right.”

5 comments

  1. Liz S says:

    I’ll add that as JP’s editor for BYSTANDER, it truly never occurred to me to ask for an alternate ending in which Griffin gets it before the credits roll. There is a poker term that perfectly describes how I feel about this book: I’m all in. JP is right — in middle school, you don’t get OVER this stuff, you just get THROUGH it. If you’re lucky. I know I’m biased, but the ending of BYSTANDER is one of many aspects of the book that will keep it alive on booklists and especially in classrooms for years to come.

  2. Nathan F. says:

    So your book is a great book, even though im in 8th grade. (haha) But None the less i still think its great story line, but does it ever relate to you growing up? Like, were you ever bullied?

  3. jimmy says:

    Nathan, thanks for reading BYSTANDER. Short answer, I don’t believe that I was ever the victim of chronic bullying. I do know that I stood by at times, and didn’t do enough to stand up for the little guy, something that I’ll forever regret.

    For more on this from me, I refer you to this post:

    http://www.jamespreller.com/2009/09/28/when-i-stood-by-and-did-nothing/

  4. charlie wilkinson says:

    this book was a great book and i am saying this because i am doing a book report on it

  5. jimmy says:

    Charlie, thanks for reading the book. I’m glad you liked it!

    Any questions, you can always email me by clicking on the “contact” icon up top.

    JP

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