Tag Archive for Bystander review

Short, Sweet Review of “BYSTANDER” by The Reading Junky

Came across a nice review of Bystander at the Reading Junky, a site written by a woman about to embark on her 36th year of teaching.

They give out Purple Hearts for that, don’t they?

Or just smile stickers?

Here’s the money quote:

Author James Preller deftly handles a current adolescent concern – bullying.  By breaking the stereotype of the rough, tough bully, and revealing a more devious variety, Preller’s story will make readers consider their own role in bullying situations.

For the full review, click here.

Thank you, Reading Junky!

New Beginnings

I love the idea of a new year, of turning the page and fresh beginnings, old failures pushed away and forgotten, a clean slate, room with space enough for wild new hope to grow.

Happy new year everybody.

I want to post about my 2011 Word of the Year — authentic — but don’t have time to get to it today. But that focus, those thoughts, really do connect to today’s post. I’m writing to share a really tremendous review of Bystander that I found on the blog, Teen Book Discussion . . . All Grown Up. It was almost spooky reading it, in a Twilight Zone kind of way, because it’s as if the reviewer, Brandy, climbed into my head and absolutely understood why I wrote the book the way I did.

It’s just so validating to have someone get out of a book what you, as the author, think you put into it. Click here to read the whole dang review.

The money quote:

This is the most realistic look at middle-school bullying I’ve read. It’s not a flattering portrait, but it is realistic, and I think that’s important. By “realistic,” I mean that the kids mock the “don’t be a bully” assembly; our hero admits that the kid being bullied sort of asks for it, even though that doesn’t make it right; school administration talks a good game but ultimately the bullying persists; in the end, the bully is still a bully, he’s just moved on to different targets. Because of its realism, I think this would make a great book for discussion and I’d love to see it replace the hokey Revealers that’s currently the 7th grade Required Summer Reading book. Unfortunately, because of its realism, I don’t think that will happen — much better to leave kids with the idea that three outcasts can write letters to their classmates about being bullied and not be mercilessly teased for it, or that lots of people sharing their stories of being bullied will make the bullies have this epiphany and suddenly become choir boys. Ahem.

“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.”