What You Need to Know:|
• This is an important book, and should be required reading for 5 - 9th graders.
• This book is about bullying from the victims point of view.
• This can be a scary book, depending on how sensitive your child is.
• While the protaganist/antagonists are all boys in this story, this book should and can be read by both genders. There
is an important supporting character that is a girl and a side storyline that follows a group of girls and cyberbullying.
Bystander is Eric's story. Eric is the new kid when he moves with his mom and little brother back to Mom's hometown after his dad takes off. His dad suffers from schizophrenia and couldn't be part of the family anymore, so Eric doesn't have much contact with him, and misses him dearly. On his first day in town, Eric comes in contact with the school bully, Griffin. The boys are in seventh grade, and this is no cartoon character of a bully, this is the real deal. Griffin is charming, suave and very appealing but Griffin is also evil. Griffin takes a liking to Eric, but when Eric stands up to Griffin, Eric goes from bystander to victim very quickly. The things Griffin is capable of are chilling, particularly chilling to a parent reading the story. The most unnerving thing about Griffin is that he never actually does the bullying, he is able to get those around him to do it for him.
This made for a very lively discussion in our Mother/Son book club and a friend's similar book club. I found it quite interesting that many of the fifth grade boys loved the book, it is a good read as the pacing is very frenetic. I kept asking the boys if any of the stuff that Griffin and his posse do in the book scared them, and all responded no, except one boy, who is very sensitive and a bit mature for his years. This young boy found the whole book disturbing , like the adults. So I think that says a couple things about this book. Fifth grade is probably the youngest group that should be reading this book. Clearly, the majority of our fifth grade boys were missing the emotional layer of this story, so any younger and they won't get anything out of this story. And on the flip side, if your child is too sensitive, definitely proceed with caution and TALK TALK TALK about what they are reading and feeling.
I think Preller's best message that comes out of this story is that silence can be deadly, to not be complicit with our muteness. In his acknowledgments, Preller quotes Martin Luther King, "In the end, we'll remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." Bystander would make a very good addition to a Civil Rights or Holocaust unit.
2009, 240 pages
Friendship, Bullying, Determination, Good Book Club Selection, Single Parents
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