This isn’t about me. This story, I mean. So already you got a reason to hang it up. At least that’s what Mrs. Smith, our English teacher, says.
But the story is about ten-year-old Laney Grafton and the new girl in her class—Lara Phelps, whom everyone bullies from the minute she shows up. Laney is just relieved to have someone else as a target of bullying. But instead of acting the way a bullied kid normally acts, this new girl returns kindness for a meanness that intensifies . . . until nobody remains unchanged, not even the reader.
In a unique and multi-layered story, with equal parts humor and angst, Laney communicates the art of storytelling as it happens, with chapter headings, such as: Character, Setting, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax. And she weaves an unforgettable tale of a new girl who transforms an entire class and, in the process, reveals the best and worst in all of us.
Let me start by being totally upfront, this book is now required reading in my homeschool. As a matter of fact, I am using it in a Creative Writing class that I teach in my local co-op as well. It is THAT good!
Let me start with what I love. Chapter titles like: Character, The Beginning, Villain, Setting, Dialogue, Conflict, Twist, Rising Action, Climax, and Resolution. Not only is this a great, character building story, but it walks the reader through all of the key elements of a story and explains them from the point of view of a ten year old. Not only that, it includes great examples of active learning as well. For example, when Laney's teacher had them look up "suspense," she didn't understand the definition so she looked up the word "apprehension" that was in the definition, which made her look up another word until she finally understood the definition. Way to go, Laney!
I like that this story addresses bullying without glossing it over. Lara never makes a friend in this book. Even Laney stays a few steps back, afraid of how others will react should she befriend Lara, despite the help Lara provides her in the story and Laney's growing respect for her. Children this age can be very cruel and unthinking when a peer is different-especially different in a way that isn't socially acceptable. Mackall makes sure that comes through. It conjured up memories of my own childhood, and experiences my children shared with me during their elementary public school years.
There is a LOT of good in this story, but admittedly, there are things I did not like as well. First was Lara's character. This is a 300 pound 10 year old that somehow manages to keep a smile on her face and rather than respond in anger or display her hurt feelings when she is bullied or done wrong, she responds in verse. Yep, poetry. For example, when a boy in class passes a note to her comparing her to a pig (with the pig coming out the better of the two in his opinion), not only does Lara choose to keep the note from the teacher, who knows it is an unkind note, but she breaks out in verse.
Hey, Joey Gilbert, thanks for the note.I have a hard time imagining a 10 year old being mature enough to not only compose herself enough to thank someone for a cruel not, but to also offer constructive advice on his baseball pitching! While I understand the purpose, teaching children to rise above bullying and be the better person, I just don't think it is realistic.
In a class clown election, you'd get my vote.
I watched you pitch, and I think you're great.
But you'll get more power if you arm is straight.
My final point contains a spoiler, so stop here if you are planning to read the book and hate spoilers.
The bullying gets so bad that Lara's parents decide to pull her out of school. The class planned and/or participated in a horrible "joke" along the lines of Carrie without the blood. And as bad as it was, Lara still refuses to name her tormentors. On the day she arrives to collect her things, as she is leaving, the class children suddenly come to an epiphany that Lara is a wonderful person for covering for them and create rhyming signs to hold up as she drives away proclaiming their repentance.
DOING THAT WAS A MEAN ATTACK.
IF I COULD I'D TAKE IT BACK.
WE WERE STUPID AND WE WERE MEAN.
YOU WERE THE NICEST PERSON THAT WE HAVE EVER SEEN.
And so on. While it would be wonderful if a bully actually did repent of his/her misdeeds, this scene is so very unlikely. Lara sees the signs, she smiles and drives off. The End.
And while I may not have liked the end, or how Lara was portrayed, it opens up a door for communication, provides an opportunity to talk about how to respond to bullying and whether bullies are still "good" people. And that makes this a good book in my opinion. And THAT is why it is now required reading in my house....