What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that there's a lot of bullying here. There are adults who are alcoholic, absent, uninvolved, or enablers. Also, a child dies in an accident, a teen tries to commit suicide, and someone takes a gun to school.
What's the story?
Ernie and Will are best friends. They look out for each other and stick together, which is a tall task considering they are constantly taunted by the jocks in the school. Most of their day is spent serving as targets, sources of mean humor or being isolated and ignored, but when they are not in school they have a great time with their shared passion -- fishing. When a horrible accident sends Will into a tailspin and things heat up at school, Ernie must decide whether to continue being a victim suffering in silence or take charge. What will he do, and how will it affect his friendship with Will?
Is it any good?
Author Catherine Ryan Hyde takes readers inside the world of two bullied teens. Through Ernie, a kind, meek, overweight teen, Hyde highlights a world where jocks rule, cool girls ridicule, and adults are misinformed, uninterested, or clueless. In other words, the setting is typical for teen literature with the usual stock characters. Ernie is a good window to this world because besides being a target, he's also a blank slate. His character is pretty one-dimensional. He's the good kid who's rarely conflicted about his moral compass; he's only torn when it comes to standing up for himself. Will is the bad kid who really isn't bad, just neglected and misunderstood.
The author seems to want to make sure the audience understands that Will gets dealt a bad hand, so she piles on the misery. In addition to all the drama, there's a self-absorbed mother who leaves the family to live with her boyfriend, an alcoholic father, and a family tragedy to make sure Will is enough of a sympathetic character that readers will understand and expect when he finally snaps. Unfortunately, all of the misfortune isn't necessary. The sheer amount of bullying the boys face is enough to make the characters sympathetic. The added melodrama just serves to make Will more of a caricature, leaving the readers less connected to the story.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about bullying. We see the harmful effects of bullying on Ernie and Will; what ideas do you have to help other kids deal will bullies? Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever bullied someone else?
Talk about school violence. What would you do if you ever heard about someone threatening to harm others in school? What do you think parents and school leaders can do to help prevent school violence? How would your ideas have helped Will and Ernie?
Ernie's Uncle Max was one of the few adults Ernie could talk to and trust; how would having someone to talk to have helped Will? Is there someone in your life you can go to when you need to talk? What qualities make them a good sounding board?