What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Homeroom Diaries, by James Patterson and Lisa Papademetriou (Middle School: My Brother Is a Big, Fat Liar), can be used to open up conversations about cyberbullying as well as depression and suicide. It includes a list of hotlines for teens in need in the back matter, and black-and-white comic-book style illustrations throughout lighten things up and give the book the feel of a journal. There are some great lessons here, such as protagonist Cuckoo's realization that, although she's currently sad, she can "imagine a day when I'm just happy and nothing else." Cuckoo's an easy character to love, because -- although she's sad about her situation -- she's also grateful for all the people who care for her. Her friends, too, while facing their own challenges -- including racism and poverty -- are really trying to make their school a better place by coming up with ideas for something they call Operation Happiness. There's some disturbing material, including a teen suicide attempt, a mean cyberbulling prank, and a drunk boy's sexual attack on a girl. Also, there are some words such as "ass," "bitch," "crap," and "slut" and two uses of "bulls--t."
What's the story?
Maggie -- or Cuckoo, as she calls herself -- has problems that many girls have. For example, she has uncooperative hair and is unsure if a cute boy in her group is asking her out as a friend or as a date. She also has some much bigger problems: Her flaky mother disappeared, leaving her alone and very sad. She had to be observed in a mental hospital and, after that, go to live with a loving but very frail neighbor. Luckily for Cuckoo, she has an amazingly supportive group of friends (who collectively call themselves the Freakshow, because they wanted a nickname "that's far worse than anything any of the diseased minds in our school could dream up"). When their sweet group becomes the target of mean cyberbullying, she realizes she's not the only one who's feeling fragile. But, instead of planning revenge, the Freakshow focus on an idea for fixing their sick school culture.
Is it any good?
It's easy to fall in love with this band of misfits as they work on their happiness, hug one another in hard times, and devise a creative (if far-fetched) plan to make their school culture healthier. There are some great lessons in HOMEROOM DIARIES, such as Cuckoo's realization that, although she's currently (and understandably) sad, she can "imagine a day when I'm just happy and nothing else."
The black-and-white comic-book style illustrations make this book feel like a journal and add a bit of lightness to some pretty serious topics. And sweet, quirky Cuckoo, who tells bad jokes and dreams up a romantic character straight from a Jane Austen novel to get her through homeroom, is an engaging protagonist.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about cyberbullying. Does what happened to Cuckoo and her friends on Facebook seem like something that could happen at your school? (This might be a good time to review Common Sens's advice on cyberbullying.)
What do you think about the way the book treats feeling sad and a teen's suicide attempt? Do you think it was a good idea for the authors to include hotline information in the back of he book?
Also, Cuckoo says she plans to return to tell more of her story. What do you think will happen? Will you read it?