Shotgun Gravy by Chuck Wendig was free last week, but I'd actually bought it before then. Just like many of the books I own, it was sitting on my Kindle waiting for me to finish something else. The sale reminded me to finish reading it, so I did. I wrote down my first impressions of the story, a short on extreme bullying, then allowed it to sink in for a bit. Wouldn't you know it, about the same time my eldest was having her own run in with the Mean Girls. In first grade.
First, here's my thoughts on the story.
The characters are teens, but is this a YA? I'm vacillating.
And this doesn't mean I don't think teens should read it - I read adult books
when I was a teen, so that's neither here nor there. It's just would I group
this with YA or not? I think I'm leaning towards not, however, it does deal with
a real issues that teens face: bullying. Let's face it, bullying isn't confined to high school. How many of us have encountered the bully who's still at it, this time in the corporate jungle versus the jungle gym.
Of course this story deals with
bullying in a holy crap kind of way.
Atlanta has just returned to school
after a stint at a special school/psych hospital due to events concerning her,
a shotgun, and her stepfather. Her mother lives in the garage and seems afraid
to say anything to her. Right away, she sees a boy being bullied and steps in.
Atlanta has a strong sense of justice. She doesn't really trust that anyone with
authority will fix the problem.
I'm not saying more about it because events unfold, secrets are outed, and I don't want to tell you the story. There were many times I was very scared for the characters. I really didn't know where this would go, how far, who would be left.
The story's also not over.
There is lots of swearing, violence, but this story does draw you in. I'll read the next one. Actually, after the teaser at the end of Gravy, I HAVE to read the next one.
The biggest element that hit me in the gut, was the utter uselessness the kids felt for the "appropriate bully-aversion techniques." Adults were of no help. Any dreams of "it gets better" were too hard to swallow for someone living in bullying hell. (Not to contradict the "It Gets Better" campaign - I know why it's there and I hope it has helped kids hang on, it's just not enough. Kids shouldn't have to deal with this crap.)
Thankfully, my kids don't have to deal with anything on the level of Shotgun Gravy, but it's pretty easy to see the kids in their classes that are developing into bullies. It always starts small, doesn't it?
There's a poster at my kid's school with techniques on "swimming free" from bullies. There is the always present "tell an adult," but come on, I remember being a kid, and generally, you didn't want to be that kid that was always running to tell on the other kids. Also where does this stop? When you're an adult in an office, who are you going to run to (maybe HR in extreme cases, but otherwise)? The next one is ignoring, and this can work, to a point. Then there is my favorite - agree with it (as a joke of course). O_o Wonder how well that one has worked out. My biggest problem, though, is that just about every "tip" is just a means of running away. It does nothing to address the fact that bullies find the kids who won't stand up for themselves and they target those kids.
Where is the poster that says "You don't have to take that shit"?!? OK - the language would have to change, but still. Where is the one where the kid is applauded for standing up for themselves? defending another kid? My two cents: this fear of confrontation just exacerbates the problem. Cause here's the thing - confrontation doesn't have to mean a knock down, drag out fight. Of course it could, but if you show you aren't going to be swayed, that you are stronger, bullies tend to migrate to easier prey. Also, the physical fights tend to crop up when feelings have been held back for too long.
When I was growing up my parents (who had been bullied as kids) had a rule: So long as I didn't start the fight, I could finish it. This also involved defending other kids. I learned something really quick - I didn't have to have a lot of fights - I just needed to show I wouldn't put up with it. Bullies know. They know who will cave.
My daughter has been standing up to the Mean Girls. It's actually one main Mean Girl who likes to convince the other girls to break the rules. And if you don't, she's mean, and will hate you forever, and so on. I knew there was an uptake in the drama-mongering when she lost her taste for the Fancy Nancy books (Nancy does have a flair for the dramatic). It's hard, so very, very hard to know that your kid is going through this and that there isn't a whole lot you can do. Because as hard as it is, she needs to learn how to deal with it. Cause it will only get harder as she gets older.
We've been having a lot of talks, and I've let her know that she can talk to me about it without me riding in on my white horse to fight the battle for her. She opened up a lot after I said that. She says she can handle it, that she just tells Mean Girl that she's not going to do anything to get herself in trouble, and then she goes to play with other kids. For now, that's working for her, and I'm proud of her for standing up for herself.
I know there's going to be ups and downs, and we'll be re-visiting the issue. I try to hold back my inner seethe, my normal although not completely rational desire to make life easier for her, and let her find her own way. And oh the things I would love to say to the Mean Girl's mom. But for now, my kid just needs to know that she has my support and that I'm proud of her for standing up for herself. So, I'll end my rant here, and go back to my regular modus operandi. I'll be watching, though.