Review by Kim Higginson, Information Management Specialist, MHF
Patricia Polacco. (2012). G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers.
The author Patricia Polacco did not learn to read until she was 13, due to learning disabilities, with the help of supportive teachers. Her personal experience of bullying informs this book, which focuses on Lyla, an 11 year-old girl who starts a new school.
She makes good friends with Jamie but drifts away from him when she is later accepted into the cool clique of popular girls. When her new friends start bullying other kids online, including her former best friend, Lyla is faced with a dilemma. When she does make a stand, she becomes the victim of a smear campaign online and is wrongfully accused of stealing.
Even though it is aimed at 8-11 year-olds, the language is a bit complex for my 9 year-old. The focus on cyber bullying is very relevant, my son has to sign a school contract noting he will use his device responsibly. In the story, as a result of the online bullying the school also brings in tighter controls.
I feel this book falls a bit short in that few adults are drawn into the story to provide support or offer help. The ending is also left open as even though the situation seems resolved, the two main characters indicate they still have a decision to make - whether to go back to the same school and hope for the best or go to another school. While I understand in cases of longstanding bullying some students may choose to move on, in the context of this story it could leave the reader feeling a bit helpless. I felt there was an opportunity to affirm some of the strengths the characters showed, rather than the main option being considered is of moving on. Maybe this was intended as a talking point.