Diary of a Witness

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Diary of a Witness Book Poster Image
Intense tale of school bullying, loss, and isolation.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers who may be interested in fishing will learn something, and everyone else will see the hurtful consequences of bullying.

Positive Messages

There are negative, self-destructive, and hurtful messages here; however, the negatives are balanced somewhat by the positive outcome and a few responsible adult influences. There are examples of intense bullying, adult irresponsibility, and self-medicating through overeating.


Positive Role Models & Representations

Most of the kids featured in the novel are not kids parents would want their kids emulating, however there are positive aspects to two of the kids' personality - loyalty and a keen awareness of what is right.


Some bullying, including a boy getting pushed down stairs. A boy gets a hook caught in his scalp and bleeds. A boy takes a gun to school, but is apprehended before anything happens. A character drowns in the ocean; another boy imagines how it happens. A teen tries to commit suicide. A deer is killed during a hunt.


Standard teenage crushes. A kid tells his gym teacher he's gay to get out of gym class.


Minor name-calling like "stupid" and "fat." One kid says he's "in hell."


Not much except for different types of fishing rods and one leather jacket with an NFL team and autograph (Terrell Owens) on it.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult has a drinking problem, which leads to irresponsible behavior that lands him in jail.

What 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.

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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, piling on misery that seems unnecessary. 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. 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.

Talk to your kids 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?

Book details

  • Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde
  • Genre: School
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • Publication date: August 25, 2009
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
  • Number of pages: 208
  • Last updated: July 13, 2017

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