Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Witness to Bullying

Diary of a Witness
Bullying seems to be seeping into my world more and more lately. From the conference, to the last few YA books I have read, it seems to be everywhere. Sadly. So how do you make each book unique and special? Because you make it real. Catherine Ryan Hyde made Diary of a Witness as real as you could get with the lives of two young men who continue to suffer at the hands of their bullies even after they suffer and inconceivable tragedy.

Ernie and Will are friends, but they are each other's only real friend. Both are targets. Ernie is bullied because he is overweight and his mom is even more overweight and his father split long ago. Will is bullied because he is strange and has acne and his mother left with another man, leaving him, his little brother Sam, and his father to fend for themselves. Both boys like fishing, which is also a source of mockery amongst the popular guys at school. One day Will convinces Ernie to go fishing in the ocean with him and Sam. In a freak accident, the boat is sunk and Sam never surfaces.

After Sam's death, you would think the bullies would lay off Will for a while, but they do something worse. They use his brother's death as fodder for the torment. In fact, they beat Will down so much, he tries to kill himself. Ernie calls the ambulance and saves Will, but even this doesn't stop the bullies. Ernie and Will go to Ernie's uncle's house for Christmas vacation and they almost feel normal. When they come back to school, though, it is as if Will just can't take it anymore. He talks about hurting the bullies so much that it makes Ernie nervous. When the bullies attack Ernie and Will one final time, it seems as though Will has been driven to do the unthinkable. But can Ernie stop Will before he does something he can never take back? Should he care if the people who tormented him for years are going to get hurt?

This book is told from the perspective of both a witness and a victim. Ernie tells the story, but he is still a victim himself. The narration gives the reader an interesting take on how the bullying dynamic can affect children. An interesting aspect is when the bullies accidentally take it too far. One time, they tripped Ernie and he tripped too far, falling down the stairs. He was barely conscious, but he could hear the boys were scared- they meant to trip him, but not throw him down the stairs. Of course, their concern is for how much trouble they are going to be in, not Ernie's welfare. It shows how almost a frenzy is created when these things get going, bringing people to levels they would never reach independently. This is a scary examination into the world of bullied teens.

The story is short, only 200 pgs, and is appropriate for all ages, high powered elementary students through low-skilled high school students. The subject matter is tough, but so is school for kids of all ages. If a kid is able to read this book, then they have surely been involved in bullying somehow, as a bully, a victim, or a witness. To see the extreme of consequences bullying can reach is an important lesson to learn. This book is versatile enough reach so many kids, it becomes a great asset to any classroom or library.

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