Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review: Dear Bully

Dear Bully was published as a response from YA authors to the recent attention that bullying has been receiving in the press.  It contains stories, essays, and letters from authors who were bullied, saw others bullied, or were bullies themselves - and it encourages teens that things will get better.

I was lucky enough not to experience extreme bullying as a child or teen.  I homeschooled through elementary school, and my homeschool community was awesome.  Being different wasn't something that led to bullying - in my world being different was cool.  That was why most of our parents were homeschooling - so that we could have the freedom to be individuals, to spend time on the things that we were interested in, to devote ourselves to developing individuality. 

I went to a private Christian school for middle school and high school, and it was a pretty big culture shock.  Being different was not a good thing at my school.  Being a small school, there wasn't really a cool crowd, there was just part of the group and not part of the group.  Please don't get me wrong, I wouldn't say I was bullied, especially not to the extreme that so many teens are facing.  People didn't laugh at me (much), make fun of me, phsyically or emotionally torment me - I was just ignored.  And for the most part I was pretty happy being ignored.  Sure I got tired of being told that I was quiet (yep I sure am) or that I blush easily (again, yes, I have noticed that myself more than once and don't need it continually pointed out).  And by the time I graduated I was ready to come to blows over the phrase "come out of your shell" (it's not a SHELL it's a PERSONALITY and it's not changing - I will never be a run around, squealing, life of the party person), but I wasn't harassed or called names.  And while I can remember lots of crying  because I felt like no one liked me or that something was wrong with me because I was different, it was nothing compared to the stories of what these authors endured and saw happening at their schools. 

While my experiences do not even approach actual bullying, I do want to express my heartfelt agreement with those who tell teens that it will get so much better.  Going to college was life-changing for me.  Suddenly I was in a place where I met people who wanted to get to know me not just in spite of my being different but because I was different.  And even as the homeschooled-weirdo-book lover that I was, my college world was big enough that I wasn't the only one who was different. 

My one disagreement with some of the authors in the book was in the idea that the childhood bullies will remain ignorant hicks who will have outlived the best days of their lives by graduation.  And you will be successful and able to rub it in their faces.  This just isn't true.  Sometimes the popular evil girl from high school grows up to be a popular super successful evil co-worker.  And you might not grow up to be famous.  I don't think success and overcoming bullying means you get to rub your awesomeness in your bully's face.  I think it means not caring.  It means learning to love who you are and not minding if your high school bully goes on to become President or runs the Junior League and still has a million friends.   If you can learn to be happy in your own skin and not feel the need to change, then you overcame the bully - regardless of who has more money, influence, friends, etc.  Overcoming is no longer being controlled or impacted by the ignorance and general evil of bullies.

In my case, overcoming means I stopped caring about my nerdiness and started enjoying it.  It means I made friends who either liked the same things I like or just like me and don't care if I listen to country music and obsess over Dr. Who and don't talk a lot in large groups.  It means being ok with not having a hundred million friends and having a few very close friends.  It means I don't care if I don't have weekend plans because I like staying home and reading books.  And here's the best part: when I stopped caring, my life became so much easier.  The cute boy that I liked and didn't think would ever notice me because he was so popular?  He noticed that I had fun doing my own thing and that I wasn't afraid to look uncool.  And now I spend my free time snuggling on the couch and watching Battlestar Gallactica with a man who thinks I'm awesome, hanging out with people who accept me for who I am, and enjoying whatever I darn well feel like enjoying.  THAT is my success.

If you are a teen, if you work with teens if you know teens, if you wish you could relive your teen years - this book is a must-read.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you, so much. I had a similar high-school experience (as it sounds to me) and there was a definite 'yes' or 'no' group. Thankfully, the 'no's sort of had their own group, but as they got older they seemed to adopt the same mentality as the authors, and became just another 'yes' group. I'm only in my first semester of college, and despite considering transferring elsewhere, I have met so many amazing people who prove that 'no' is the real yes, 'yes' is only fun for a little while, and in the end, it truly does get better. Thank you for your insight and your post, this book is definitely on my list now.

  2. Bullying of all kinds is a really big issue these days, cyber-bullying even more so. Kids can't go home to be exempt from mean kids. Another book on the subject is Frank Peretti's The Wounded Spirit. -Ben Bronsink

  3. I think this is a really important book to be out there. I haven't read it yet but I've heard so much about it!