Bully by Patricia Polacco
Lyla was very nervous about starting sixth grade at her new school, but she met Jamie on her first day and they immediately became friends. Lyla found herself fascinated by the three popular girls in school, who completely ignored her. She managed to get their attention when she got the top grade on an essay. Lyla tried out for cheerleading and made the team. Lyla even negotiated with her parents to get a laptop and Jamie helped her put together a Facebook page. Suddenly the popular girls started to pay attention to her and Lyla found herself joining them for lunch, leaving Jamie behind. But when a test is stolen and Lyla is accused of stealing it, she finds herself being bullied on Facebook and online. The story ends with the real thief being caught, but there is still the question of how kids who are being bullied should respond. What would you do?
Polacco grapples with many issues in this book. There are the popular kids and the others, something that we have seen in books again and again. But Polacco works to make this more than about mean girls by focusing on Lyla and her own reaction to bullying. Lyla sits quietly and allows others to be picked on by the girls, unwilling to speak up. While she does eventually disengage from the others, her own role in bullying is exposed too. The theft of the test takes the level of bullying higher, moving it online and making it very personal. Polacco manages to make the abuse believable but also devastating.
My one problem with the book is that the adults in the story are fairly ineffectual in stopping the bullying. When Lyla’s brother is having real issues at his new school, their parents do not get involved. Additionally, when the bullying against Lyla escalates, she does not turn to adults for help. It’s an unfortunate omission.
As always Polacco’s art is a large part of the appeal of this book. Her realistic illustrations use fine lines and bright colors to tell the story. The emotions on her faces are particularly effective, showing exactly what they are thinking. I also enjoyed the clothes worn by the bullies and the way that they wore similar outfits that held together as a group.
This is a great book to start bullying discussions. It shows how bullying can come from nowhere and escalate quickly. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.