James Preller's novel "Bystander" could be billed a cautionary tale for
middle school students. The message is clear: Bullying can be subtle, and
those who stand by and do nothing to stop it are as guilty as those who
create the violence. At times Mr. Preller does get a bit heavy-handed, but
the story is interesting, the characters believable, and the situations
easily recognized by students of this age group.
The story is about a new student in town who understands that middle
school is a tough time to move. Young people have formed their groups, and
newcomers have a tough time finding a niche to fit in. Eric has a mother who
loves him, a brother who is a social butterfly and a father who is absent.
Eric knows from their first encounter that he would rather be a friend to
Griffin than an enemy, as Eric sees Griff's group chasing after another boy
covered in ketchup. When popular Griffin befriends him, Eric goes along with
the flow, even though this rather wise seventh-grader realizes that
something is a little "off" with the group. Although he tries to minimize
the group's cruelty to some extent, he does not speak up in defense. Eric
rationalizes that he himself never does anything wrong.
As the school year progresses, however, the taunts and harmless actions
turn more serious. When Griffin steals from Eric and then tries to blackmail
him into stealing, the bullying can no longer be ignored. Eric realizes that
he has turned from friend to victim. The truth becomes clear that doing
nothing is in itself contributing to the problem.
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This is tricky ground for middle schoolers. No one likes a
snitch. There will always be those who seem to attract bullies
because they so desperately want to fit into a particular crowd that
they will do anything the bully asks them to do. Fitting in is such
an important aspect of this age as they try to define their
personalities for themselves. It takes great courage and strength of
self for someone of this age to be independent of a group. In fact,
it is when they learn to do this that real maturity happens.
The author also reveals how the school itself is sometimes at a
loss to do more than watch and educate, as most bullies use other
students to do their dirty work, and the violence often happens off
the school grounds. Schools can hold classes and give the students
information to detect and report bullying, but it is the students
themselves who must act to stop the events from occurring.
I must give Mr. Preller a gold star for taking on this topic as
well as he did. The story is interesting, which may make the lesson
a little easier to swallow. It would make a great book for class or
family discussions. For this and others by Preller, stop in and see
us at the Lincoln Public Library, 725 Pekin St.
[Text from file received from
Lincoln Public Library District]
(Ms. Lou's blog: