February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Teens’ True Stories Examine the Causes and Effects of Bullying

to-this-dayCyberbullying. Spreading rumors. Slut-shaming. These and other types of bullying affect teens every day. Whether they are victims or aggressors, young people will see themselves and their peers in these nonfiction titles. As these true stories illustrate, every type of bullying has one thing in common—no one escapes unscathed.

Featuring a boy posing like an undercover superhero, the cover of Shane Koyczan’s illustrated poem To This Day (Annick Pr., 2014; Gr 6 Up) has the tagline “For the bullied and beautiful”—the perfect description of the work’s intent. Originally written as a poem, later set to music, then animated and released online, Koyczan’s book explores bullying through the lens of his own and others’ experiences. Each spread is illustrated by a different artist, and as the author says in his foreword, each piece is “a wonderfully unique and heartfelt interpretation to my words.” The preface, afterword, and resources give context to the poem’s message. This slight volume packs a powerful punch.

survival guide to bullyingChatty and informative, The Survival Guide to Bullying (Scholastic, 2015; Gr 5-8) by Aija Mayrock is full of helpful insight for victims. The teen author, who has been ostracized and antagonized herself, has firsthand knowledge of how to overcome the emotional effects of bullying. As she reiterates throughout the book, recognizing that being bullied is not the victim’s fault is the first key to recovery. Survival tips, steps to accomplish these tips, and original poetry are presented in nine chapters, and book includes an interview and a list of helpful hotlines. This is not a “follow these tips and your problems will be solved” type of book, but rather a “follow these suggestions and kids will feel better about themselves” title, an important distinction. The author’s hard-won wisdom provides victims of bullying with much-needed empathy in this small, but mighty, survival guide.

Dear Nobody_Like a sucker punch to the gut Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose (Sourcebooks, 2013; Gr 9 Up), edited by Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil, will leave readers reeling with emotion from the first sentence. Forced to move in an attempt to separate from her mother’s abusive boyfriend, Mary Rose finds herself in a new school unable to make friends. She turns to alcohol and drugs to dull her pain. In a relentless stream of entries she details the highs and lows of her relationships with friends, family, drugs, and alcohol. She is arrested and sent to rehab numerous times, but each time is pulled back into substance abuse. Midway through the narrative, it is revealed that Mary Rose has cystic fibrosis and her life expectancy is at best her mid-20s. This revelation helps to explain some of her self-destructive behavior, but she does not use it as an excuse. Raw and powerful, Mary Rose’s writing is a window into her difficult but all too real life.

UnSlut_In April 2013, Emily Lindin created The Unslut Project to bring attention to slut shaming and “sexual bullying.” Unslut: A Diary and Memoir (Zest, 2015, Gr 7-9) is Lindin’s own diary from sixth to eighth grade. Emily’s boyfriend, Zach, is one of the popular boys. One afternoon, she goes with him to his best friend Matt’s house, where she is pressured into sexual behavior that makes her uncomfortable. After this incident, she is labeled a slut and is sexually harassed and bullied by other students. Though she remains popular and has other boyfriends, the acceptance of her mistreatment affects her perception of her and others’ sexual behavior. Footnoted with comments from the Emily of today, and with a list of resources at the end, this authentic work will appeal to preteens and teens. It powerfully illustrates the importance and value of saying “no.”

ViciousIn 21 stories, teens write about their experiences as victims of bullying. Vicious: True Stories by Teens About Bullying (Free Spirit, 2012; Gr 8 Up), edited by Hope Vanderberg, makes the important point that often perpetuators of bullying were initially victims of bullying themselves. None of the authors of these short stories excuse their behavior, but they do offer an explanation for it. The threads of sexuality, abuse, and foster/group homes run through many of these stories, as does triumph over adversity. As these teens can personally attest, young people can change their behavior and attitude toward others. Unpolished yet poignant and perceptive, this compilation from Youth Communications is an important contribution to the conversation around bullying.

Kefira Philippe is a librarian at Nichols Middle School in Evanston, IL. She’s currently serving on YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults committee and was recently elected to the 2017 Printz committee.

 See also:
SLJ Chats with Teen Author and Bullying Survivor Aija Mayrock
SLJ Resources for Bullying Prevention
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  1. The book Dear Nobody: The True Diary or Mary Rose sounds like such a good book. I’ve been really intrigued by stories about bullying lately. In school I was never bullied but now my little sister has a big problem with it. I’m hoping that these stories will help me relate to her. Do you know of a book about bullying for parents that might be good?