Eric Haskins is starting 6th Grade. He has always seen himself as: “exceedingly normal. I prided myself on it, nothing weird about me at all.” Everything changes for him at the beginning of the new school year. Eric discovers the existence of “The Book.” The Book is passed down from each graduating 6th Grade class. It gives very specific details about “How to Make Trouble Without Getting in Trouble, Rule the School and Be the Man”. Within its pages are instructions to single out one classmate to be the “Grunt.’ The Grunt will be the person on whom all others with gang up–mentally, verbally and physically if it is deemed necessary.
Without understanding how or what has happened, Eric finds himself branded ‘The Grunt.’ Desperate to change the situation, Eric sets out on a personal quest to find The Book, read it and thus rob It and Its followers of their power over him.
The Bully Book is masterfully constructed, alternating between the journal entries/notes of Eric and actual pages from The Book, itself. Eric’s growing desperation is heartbreaking and genuine. Every reader who has ever been made to feel as if or she is not good enough will feel an instant connection with Eric. The Bully Book presents relational bullying–the most prominent form found in schools. Eric defines it perfectly and identifies part of the problem when he is trying to have a conversation with his father:
I felt queasy. My dad doesn’t understand how it works, I thought, You don’t get locked into lockers and robbed of your lunch money. It’s nothing like on TV. It’s a lot worse and a lot harder to explain to somebody who has obviously never experienced it. Because that’s the only way you could laugh at that kind of stuff, Dad.
One of the most poignant entries is the following, where we truly see the effects relational bullying has at the deepest levels for the individual on the receiving end of such cruelty:
I don’t like being me anymore….I never thought about liking myself or not.
I always considered myself normal. Nothing bad, nothing good.
But now, it’s clear to me. I don’t like myself. Not my face, my hair, my nose, the dark circles under my eyes, the bushy eyebrows. I’ve got thick thighs, skinny arms and a big round butt. I hate my voice, the way that I talk, the things I say. I hate the thoughts I think. I’m not really good at anything….
I wanna change myself. I don’t wanna keep on being this person. I don’t want to be the Grunt.
Eric’s story doesn’t tie everything up with a ribbon at the end. But he does gain insight into how he can reclaim his power when he realizes the ways in which he has given it away. This one is a must-read!