Category Archives: Abuse/Bullying


By Mark Shulman

Published by Roaring Book Press

Copyright © 2010

Is there any way to reach a bully? Well I guess that depends why the bully is a bully.

Tod Munn is a bully. He’s the kid that intimidates you until you give up your lunch money. Unfortunately somebody else is horning in on his territory, so by the time Munn gets to his usual prey their pockets are empty. This isn’t sitting well with Tod and his “droogs”, so they are going to have to do something drastic. This time they get caught, but instead of expulsion the school counselor has a different plan. She sentences Tod to a month of detention with her, where he is to write in a journal every day. Tod might actually prefer to be with his friends who get assigned to outside clean up duty, at least then he could keep tabs on their mutinous ways.

The reader gets to view this story through the pages of Tod Munn’s detention journal. We slowly learn what landed Tod in detention and what his motivations are for bullying others. What we learn is that Tod is very smart, and even talented, but he is from the wrong side of the tracks trying to survive poverty and a bad family life. What we eventually learn is that some kids bully to survive, and some bully because their just mean. While neither path should be condoned the reader will come away with some empathy for Todd, because in addition to his other problems he is also being bullied just not in the straight up, physical, intimidating way that he bullies.

I love books that make me question my perception. Like most other people, I had been bullied a little bit when I was in school, and so I hate bullies. I root against them; I want them to get what they deserve. The assumption is that bullies do what they do because they are mean and horrible people.

 Mark Shulman tells us a story from the bully’s perspective though, and he helps us to see that it is completely conceivable that some kids bully as a survival mechanism. Again, it doesn’t make it right, but this story actually made me feel for the bully protagonist. So, now instead of saying – I hate bullies, I’m more likely to say – I hate bullying.

“Scrawl” is one of those stories that you know is good because you get so invested in the character that you want to know what he goes on to do when there are no more words for you to read. Tod is a character that many teens will be able to relate to whether they are a bully or a victim of a bully, and I can see this book as a great conversation starter.


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Filed under Abuse/Bullying, Family, High School, Young Adult Fiction

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More

By Roald Dahl

Published by Alfred A. Knopf

Copyright © 1977

I know Roald Dahl by his children’s stories like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, and “James and the Giant Peach”. All of these books are filled with characters who experience extraordinarily impossible things which stoke the fires of the imagination.

“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, and Six More” is a collection of Dahl’s Short Stories that are aimed at an older audience. Whether it is a children’s novel or short stories for adults, Dahl has a penchant for writing the amazing. In these stories there is a boy who talks to animals, a fingersmith, a Roman treasure, a boy who flies home, and man who learns to see without his eyes. Some of the stories are funny and other tragic but all are amazing, or in some cases amazingly odd.

On the whole I enjoyed reading this book. However there was a story or two that I didn’t particularly care for. When Dahl writes a story with miserably rotten characters they usually get theirs in the end; which I like. In “The Swan” he breaks that tradition and doesn’t give me any real closure on the story. Otherwise I loved the stories. “The hitchhiker” was particularly humorous, and “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” was an interesting fictional story of character transformation. This is a nice read for young adults (12 and up) and adults.

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Filed under Abuse/Bullying, Fantasy, Short Stories, Strong Sense of Place, Young Adult Fiction

A Monster Calls (MUST READ)

A Monster Calls

By Patrick Ness

Inspired by an Idea from Siobhan Dowd

Published by Candlewick Press

Copyright © 2011

Siobhan Dowd, author of four young adult books, did not begin writing until she was already into her 40’s. Being raised in London by Irish parents, and having spent decades helping others in outreach and activism, Siobhan wrote about what she knew. Her stories, set in Ireland and the UK, were about young adults and the troubles they face. Before Siobhan could publish anymore books though, she succumbed to a trouble of her own. In 2007 she lost her battle with breast cancer.

A short time ago, Patrick Ness, an American now living in England and winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Booktrust Teenage Prize, was asked to finish a book that Siobhan had started. “She had characters, a premise, and a beginning. What She didn’t have, unfortunately, is time.” He tells us. After reading what she had left and accepting the request “A Monster Calls” is where the inspiration has led him.

Thirteen year old Connor has been under a lot of stress lately. His dad left him and his mother a few years ago, and that was tough enough. Ever since he found out that his mother had cancer though, his world has turned upside down. His mother has to have treatments that make her sick. His grandmother, who is not easy to get along with, has been visiting more and telling him what to do. And people have been treating him differently as if he is not an individual; he is Connor, the boy with the sick mom.

With all that has been going on Connor begins having nightmares. He goes to sleep at night and has visions of “the darkness and the wind and the screaming… hands slipping from his grasp no matter how he tries to hold on.” It is the worst nightmare he has ever had. But then he begins having another nightmare, and in this nightmare he is visited by a monster. At first this nightmare scares him. The thought of the huge, angry looking monster causes him anxiety during his waking hours. Once Connor finally sees this monster up close though, he realizes that the monster from his first dream is much scarier. He begins to see that this new monster is old and earthly, and has actually come to help him, and he hopes against hope that helping him means helping his mother.

Ness tells us a serious and occasionally darkly humorous story about a boy who is too afraid to admit what he knows is inevitable, and it is eating him up inside. Through the use of three stories Connor’s monster helps him to come to grips with his feelings of unfairness, anger, and neglect, but most importantly it helps him to come to grips with the truth. This truth is Connor’s story, which he must learn to tell.

Dowd and Ness have brought to life a book about coping when loved ones have cancer. The story is emotional and raw. It is full of anger and despair. Do you know that ache in your throat that comes when you are trying to suppress tears and moans of utter grief and sadness? That is what this book is. “A Monster Calls” is heart-wrenchingly necessary, not to give hope, but to help people cope. So many of us need a monster to guide us through the emotions when disease strikes so close to home, but so often such a one is not found. To a small extent “A Monster Calls” fills that void.

There are many books with heart and feeling on book shelves today, but few have affected me the way this one has. Cancer doesn’t have to strike close to you to appreciate this book. Anyone who has dealt with the grief and sorrow of untimely loss can relate to Connor’s story.

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Filed under Abuse/Bullying, Disease/Cancer, Family, Psychological, Young Adult Fiction


By Pittacus Lore

Published by Harper

Copyright © 2010

Lorien was a peaceful and progressive planet. Hundreds of years ago the Loriens were faced with the choice of changing the way they treated their environment or face eventual extinction. They decided to change, and their planet healed. Lorien decided to bless some of its people with special powers which would enable them to continue protecting their planet, and so they did. They protected it right down to the day that the Mogadorians invaded in large number with soldiers and giant beasts.

The Mogadorians faced the same decision of saving their planet and decided to use it up and then take over another thriving planet. The Loriens fought valiantly but they were caught by surprised and were outnumbered. However, they did have a contingency plan. They rounded up nine children of the Guarde and put them on a ship bound for earth to await the day that they could return and restore Lorien to its former beauty. The Lorien elders knew that the Mogadorians would try to track down these children and kill them before they developed their powers, so they were given charms that would protect them. The elders could not make them invincible but they could slow down the Mogadorian trackers; they made it so that the children each had a number and they could only be killed in numerical order.

John Smith (a.k.a. Daniel Jones, a.k.a. …) has been on the run for the last 10 years. He and his guardian try to keep a low profile so they don’t have to move so often, but they have been moving nearly every 6 months. The Mogadorians have caught up with numbers one, two, and three. They are now coming after him; he is number four. The Mogadorians are getting more frantic now though, because John is now 15 and he is starting to get his powers. The time to stand up and fight is close.

“I am Number four” is a wildly exciting teen Sci-Fi/Romance novel. When you become John you feel the anxiousness that he feels. He is constantly looking over his shoulders and thinking ever so slowly about his actions. You can feel the pent up frustration when he becomes the target of the school bully. He knows he can end the harassment quickly, but not without having to move again. The romance, while it slows the book down a little, never gets too sappy and actually helps with the drama since he is interested in the ex-girlfriend of the aforementioned bully. In addition, the tension and suspense just build as you continue to wonder when and where the Mogadorians are going to catch up to John.  When they do finally catch up the action does not disappoint with glowing swords, corkscrew daggers, laser blasters, giant man eating animals, and 9 feet tall Mogadorian soldiers. It really seems like more than John can overcome by himself. Fortunately he won’t have to.

This book is awesome! It kind of reminds you of Superman except John is not unique; there are now five others like him out there. I don’t want to give too much away, but you are also going to love Bernie Kosar in this book. That’s all I’m saying.  I am definitely ready for book two in the series “The Power of Six.” (Age 13 and up)

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Filed under Abuse/Bullying, High School, Paranormal, Romance, Science Fiction, Suspense, Young Adult Fiction

Split Image

By Mel Glenn

Published by Harper Collins

Copyright © 2000

Laura Li is a conundrum. Everyone thinks they know her but nobody does. She really doesn’t even know herself. Laura is the child of Chinese immigrants who came to America for greater freedom and prosperity. Her father used that prosperity to become a slave to his job, and her mother only really left China physically her heart is still tied to her homeland. Laura’s father has little time for her, and her mother smothers her with her outmoded Chinese expectations. What she wants more than anything is love, affection, and acceptance from her parents. Laura bottles up her problems and puts on a calm and slightly aloof exterior, but the smooth surface waters only belie the turbulent seas beneath.

Mel Glenn has written a dramatic multicultural story of love, expectation, misjudgment, and self-destruction. By way of poetry and perspective Glenn shows us the difference between what people see and think and what really is. This story is thought provoking on various levels, and you come away with the distinct reminder that you really don’t know people as well as you think you do based merely on brief and passing interactions.

Judged merely as a story “Split Image” is original and special in the way that the story is told from so many different directions and in so many different tongues. I think this is an important book for young adults and their parents to read as conduit to meaningful discussion.

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Filed under Abuse/Bullying, Cultural, Drugs, High School, Poetry, Poetry, Psychological, Suicide, Young Adult Fiction, Young Adult Non-Fiction

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

By Chris Crutcher

Published by Harper Tempest

Copyright © 1993

Is the world good or is the world bad? I guess it depends on who you ask and how far they look. For people like Sara Byrnes and Eric Calhoun it’s not always such a great place. Eric and Sarah Byrnes have been social misfits since they were young children; him fat and her terribly scarred.

For Eric being on the high school swim team has helped him lose weight and become more accepted, but there is nothing Sarah can do about her Scarred face and arms. Sarah Byrnes is still Eric’s best friend though, and now she is in the psychiatric ward of the hospital in what seems to be a catatonic state. The real puzzle is why she is there, and finding out can be the difference between life and death. Sarah Byrnes current emotional state and inability to trust anyone, even her best friend, makes it really hard to help her before time runs out.

While Eric is struggling to reach and help Sarah Byrnes, competition for supremacy of body and mind is heating up on the swim team and in his Contemporary American Thought class with Mark a fellow swimmer and student who is not quite stable.

The Author does a wonderful job of getting us into the minds of our main character, and through him helping us to understand the supporting characters and their backgrounds. He also tackles some hard subjects like religion, abortion, and suicide. A young adult novel obviously is not going to answer or solve these problems but it will cause adolescents to think critically about these issues. The mystery remains though, what happened to Sarah Byrnes and what is going to happen to her. It is definitely worth the read to find out.

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Filed under Abuse/Bullying, High School, Mystery, Obesity/Over Weight, Psychological, Young Adult Fiction