Archive for Bullies

Booktalk: Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang

Falling Into Place cover

If there is one niche that Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang falls into, it’s probably the “I’m looking for books like If I Stay” category.  Or, in a larger sense, the “I’m looking for books that are about life-or-death choices” category.  This would be a good book to share with large groups of teens (because after all, hasn’t everyone thought about life-or-death choices?) and it would also be a solid choice for book discussion groups.


Liz Emerson thought that her death would be quick and easy.  She thought that she would drive her Mercedes off the road in a spot where she would die instantly and where her family members wouldn’t find her.  But she miscalculated, and now she’s alive — barely.

Liz Emerson was one of the most well-known girls in school, but not always for the right reasons.  She had friends, she had acquaintances, and she had enemies.  Maybe that’s why she tried to kill herself — because she didn’t always treat people the right way.  Maybe it was because she was unhappy, or lonely, or drunk.  But whatever the reason, she failed in her mission.  Now she’s lying in the hospital with tubes and machines keeping her alive.  She didn’t want her family or friends to see her like this, but now she doesn’t have a choice.

It might be too late for Liz, or maybe there’s still time to save her.  Her broken body lying in the hospital bed is pulling at the emotions of all different kinds of people.  Her best friends.  The boy who loved her for years but never told her.  Her classmates who envied her and hated her.  While Liz’s life hangs in the balance, all of those people will have time to wonder: Who is Liz Emerson, really?  And why would she try to kill herself?

Booktalk: Breaking Point by Alex Flinn

Breaking Point Cover

Alex Flinn has become popular for her novels in different genres.  While many of her recent successes are fantasy books with ties to fairy tales like Beastly and Towering, today I decided to highlight Breaking Point, one of her realistic fiction books.  Like Breathing Underwater, this is a powerful novel featuring a boy who has to overcome some major obstacles as he struggles to find out what kind of person he is and what he really wants to become.


Paul Richmond is having problems at Gate, his new school where the students are rich and they don’t like outsiders.  Paul doesn’t fit in, but some days it’s worse than that.  Some days he hears whispers behind his back, he gets spitballs in his hair, he’s tripped in the hallways, and he even has garbage thrown in his locker.  Paul is tormented more and more every day, and soon he hates going to school.

But everything changes when Charlie Good offers his friendship.  Paul doesn’t understand why Charlie, one of the most popular boys in school, is so friendly to him.  Charlie offers Paul a chance for something he wants very badly; a chance to fit in and be part of group.  So it doesn’t even matter what kind of a group it is, or what they do, as long as Paul can fit in.  It doesn’t matter, even if the group is called the Mailbox Club, and the whole purpose of the club is to drive around late at night drinking and destroying mailboxes with baseball bats.  At least Paul fits in.

But soon he realizes that the Mailbox Club is only the beginning, and that Charlie Good has even more plans in store.  Dangerous plans which, if he carries them out, will leave behind a lot more than just broken mailboxes.

Booktalk: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is one of my favorite book titles, and this is definitely a book that can sell itself with its cover alone.  I just started booktalking it at schools this week, and I had kids in several classes say, “I want to read THAT book!” before I even started my booktalk.  While it CAN sell itself, it’s still worth booktalking to let teens know about the plot layers of the story and to share this book with the widest audience possible.  Check out Meg Medina’s website to learn more about all of the books she’s written for kids and teens.


Piddy Sanchez is trying to keep a low profile.  She’s trying … and failing.

One morning before school, a girl Piddy barely knows tells Piddy that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass.  Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui Delgado is, and she has no idea how this girl knows her or why she would hate her.

Piddy is having enough trouble trying to deal with her family, her school, and her job.  She wants her mother to be honest with her about who her father really was.  She wants to fit in at her new school and keep up with her honors classes.  She wants to keep earning money working at Salon Corazon because she really needs it.

But as the harassment from Yaqui and her gang start to escalate, Piddy learns what it’s like to live with a bully’s target on her back.  She learns what it’s like to have an enemy who can make all her other problems seem small by comparison, and who can make her life a living hell.

Booktalk: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Forgive Me Leonard Peacock cover

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is, in many ways, difficult to read.  We shift back and forth between caring for our protagonist and getting irritated when he rubs us the wrong way.  He’s our hero, but he’s difficult to love.  We also see that he hasn’t been loved enough, and we wonder who, if anyone, will have the strength and the insight needed to save him.  As many of you know from reading Silver Linings Playbook or watching the movie, Matthew Quick is skilled at creating endearing yet flawed characters, and Leonard Peacock is another great example.


Today is Leonard Peacock’s 18th birthday, and he’s planning to kill himself.  But first, he needs to get a couple of things done.

Leonard wants to give some going-away presents to some of the most important people in his life.  Except, these people won’t realize that they’re going-away presents until it’s too late.  Leonard wants to give them presents because each of them managed to make his life feel a little less worthless.

After he gives those presents away, Leonard is planning to kill Asher Beal.  Asher used to be Leonard’s best friend, and then he turned into something else.  Asher is the main reason that Leonard wants to kill himself.

And then, after he distributes his going-away presents and after he kills Asher Beal, Leonard is going to kill himself.  Unless anyone can give him a good reason why he shouldn’t.

Booktalk: Professor Gargoyle (Tales From Lovecraft Middle School #1) by Charles Gilman

Truth be told, I first picked up Professor Gargoyle because I’m a big fan of HP Lovecraft, and I was interested in reading a children’s book written by a fellow Lovecraft fan.  Then I picked up the book and was worried because it looked kind of … gimmicky.  Yes, the animated cover that goes back and forth between a normal looking teacher and a hideous monster when you tilt the book is COOL and all.  But I was worried because I thought that the book might rely too much on the cover for sales and the story might not live up to the hype.  Luckily, the story was engaging, a little scary, and a lot of fun.  This will be a good series for fans of the Goosebumps series, for reluctant readers, and for grownups who would like to add some Lovecraftian influence to the younger generation.  Visit the Lovecraft Middle School website to learn more about the series, about HP Lovecraft, and about the secret identity of Charles Gilman!


Robert is having a tough time at Lovecraft Middle School.  All of his old friends are now going to Franklin Middle School, and he doesn’t know anyone at this new school … except for Glenn.  The bully who’s been tormenting Robert for years.  On their very first day at Lovecraft, Glenn throws chewed-up gummy worms in Robert’s hair AND demands money from him.  Just like old times.  And that was during the school’s welcome ceremony.  Robert hadn’t even set foot in the school yet!

When he went inside to find his locker, Robert got another unpleasant surprise.  He opened his locker, looked inside, and sitting on the top shelf staring at him was a large … white … rat.  And suddenly there was a lot of screaming going on all around him.  Because there wasn’t just a rat in Robert’s locker.  There was a rat in EVERY locker.  And all at once, dozens and dozens of rats came leaping out of the lockers, running down the hallway, and stampeding through the door of the school.

But believe it or not, that wasn’t the weirdest part of Robert’s first day at Lovecraft Middle School.

Booktalk: The Goats by Brock Cole

Sometimes when I’m trying to figure out which booktalk to include next on this podcast, I look through my backlog of titles and I look at the categories on the website to see which subjects could use a boost.  So on the one hand, I now definitely know that I need to include some more books that fall into the fairy tales, homosexuality, novels in verse, teenage pregnancy, and zombie categories.  On the other hand, I hadn’t talked about a “survivor story” in a while, and The Goats by Brock Cole definitely fits into that category.

This was a book that I first read years ago when I was back in library school, and the good news is that it’s a compelling story that aged well.  As opposed to a book like The Girl in the Box by Ouida Sebestyen, a PHENOMENAL story about a girl who is kidnapped and proceeds to type out letters on her portable typewriter and …

What do you mean, “What’s a typewriter?”

Anyway, as you probably figured out by my episode on Killing Mr. Griffin, I’m a huge fan of books whose covers have evolved while their contents have remained timeless.  While most teens won’t be familiar with the sleepaway summer camp experience, much less one with an island strategically nearby, ALL teens can understand what it feels like to be victimized and humiliated.  And all teens will want to find out what happens to Howie and Laura, two victims who aren’t as weak as they first appeared.


Howie and Laura had been taught a lesson.  The lesson was, “You are not popular.”  The other boys and girls at their summer camp chose the two of them to be part of an annual tradition.  Howie and Laura were stripped of their clothes, tied up, brought over to Goat Island, and left there.  Every summer the same thing happened to one boy and one girl, and every summer everyone got a big laugh.  But this summer will be different, because Howie and Laura aren’t as weak as everyone thinks they are.  They make a plan that they won’t be there the next morning for the other campers to laugh at – they’re going to escape from Goat Island.  This summer, Howie and Laura will teach a lesson of their own.

Booktalk: Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories

I first became aware of the nonfiction essay collection called Dear Bully when I got an advance reader’s copy shortly before October, which was National Bullying Prevention Month.  Reading this book made me think about how bullying affected my life when I was a kid and how much it influences the lives of the teens I see every day.  Think about all the times that you ever bullied someone, how many times you were a victim, and how many times you watched it happen to someone else.  Now think about the kids growing up today and how new technologies like social media and texting can spread insults and rumors like wildfire, increasing that humiliation and frustration even further.  This is a book that teens, teachers, and parents should be reading, or at the very least they should know that it exists.  Usually this is the point where I plug the author’s website, but since this is a collaborative effort by so many authors I’ll point you to the book’s website instead.  There you can learn about the book and the authors, and also read new essays every week.


Ellen Hopkins.  Carolyn Mackler.  Lauren Oliver.  Mo Willems.  R.L. Stine.  These are just a few of the people who contributed to this book, and they all have two things in common.  The first thing they have in common is that they all grew up to be writers.  The second thing they have in common is that they all have strong memories of bullies from when they were growing up.  Some of these authors were bullies.  Some of them were victims.  And some of them were bystanders who stood back and watched what happened to other kids.  But they didn’t say anything because THEY didn’t want to become the next targets.

All of the stories in this book are true.  All of these stories were remembered by young people who grew up, and learned how to share their voices with the rest of the world.  And each of these authors needed to share their stories with you.  They wanted to tell you that even though they lived with depression, confusion, and anger, they struggled … but they survived.

And so can you.

Booktalk: The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga

Fanboy Goth Girl Cover

First off, if you haven’t already read The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, I recommend that you do so ASAP.  That’s because in my opinion, this is one of the best young adult novels of the last decade.  To sum up, it’s a well-written and engaging story about a boy who is having trouble fitting in.  He doesn’t have a lot of friends (okay, he really has just ONE friend), he’s picked on by bullies on a regular basis, and he dreams of creating his own graphic novels.  When I first read this book and I got to the scene where the other boy kept hitting him with the dodgeball and nobody stepped in to help, I knew that I’d found the hook for my booktalk.

Now to be honest, this book is not only about bullying.  In fact, when Fanboy and Goth Girl become friends, the focus shifts to the subject of friendship, and the underlying issues of trust and betrayal that weave their way into that friendship.  But part of creating a booktalk is knowing that there’s no way you can tell the WHOLE story, that you’ll only have a few minutes to convince your audience to read this book, so you’ll have to narrow your focus in order to create a strong and memorable presentation.

Here’s some trivia for you: When Barry Lyga wrote this book, he planned for the end of the book to be the end of the story.  But he was deluged with so many questions from readers who loved the book and wanted to know more that he later wrote a sequel called Goth Girl Rising.

This is not a perfect booktalk, but it’s definitely one of my strongest.  I think it works well because Lyga’s scene in the gym causes such a visceral reaction, because students are all-too-familiar with the subject of bullying (they’ve done it to others, they’ve been victims, or they know other students who have been bullied), and perhaps (?) because second-person booktalks can be especially powerful.  After all, the word “you” directed at the audience over and over again can really make your listeners identify with the character in the book.  Whatever the reason, I can tell you that every single time I’ve booktalked this book to classes, this has been one of the most popular books that the students have requested afterwards.



That’s the sound the dodgeball makes when it hits you in the shoulder.  The fact that you’re already out of the game doesn’t seem to matter to Mitchell Frampton, because he’s decided to use you for target practice today.


Again, in the same damn spot.  He really has incredible aim.


Back when you used to complain to your mother about the bullies in school, she always said the same thing, “Just ignore them.”  That’s what you’re trying to do now.  You’re doing everything in your power not to cry out in pain.


By tomorrow, your shoulder will be covered by a massive bruise so purple that it’s almost black.  Your mother will see this bruise and ask about it, but you won’t be able to tell her the truth – that “just ignore them” doesn’t always work.


You look around the gym to see if anyone else notices what Mitchell is doing.  The gym teachers are busy talking to each other.  The other kids in the class either don’t see or don’t want to see what’s going on.  It would be great if one of your friends could rescue you, or at least stand up for you.  But that’s not going to happen, because you only have one friend in this school, and he’s not in your gym class because he’s a jock and you’re a weakling.


But wait, there is someone watching.  Someone sitting alone in the bleachers on the other side of the gym.  Someone looking right at you.  You can’t tell who it is from where you’re standing, but you do notice the black clothes, the black hair, and the white face.  You don’t know it yet, but the first time you meet her, she’s going to call you “fanboy.”  You don’t know it yet, but this girl will not only become your best friend, she’s also going to change your life.