Bystander, by James Preller has been nominated for the 2012 Virginia Readers Choice Award….and deserves it.
Bystander is a book I could gush about. The basic story involves Eric, a seventh grader new to town, meeting the biggest bully at Bellport Central Middle days before school begins. However, Griffen Connelly is astoundingly charming, cool, popular….almost charismatic. When Eric actually begins school it seems a blessing that he’s quickly accepted into Griffen’s crowd at lunch. However, Griffen is not what he appears to be and Eric finds himself witnessing Griffen’s mean streak and dishonesty.
Despite the fact that the school is involved in an anti-bullying campaign, it’s extraordinarily difficult for Eric or anyone else to untangle themselves from Griffen’s web enough to stand up to him. All the seventh graders know the answers to questions posed by teachers and counselors about bullying…but what can they do when caught in the situation themselves as either a bully, victim or bystander? The real answers away from adults are much harder to come by.
Eventually, Eric comes to realize, “I’m just as bad as the rest of them.” (p. 86) But, before Eric can turn things around he finds himself attacked and at the center of Griffen’s cruel attention. An on-the-ball Language Arts teacher gets to Eric and his friend Mary with a frank talk about bullying with specific examples from history and some sharp quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that begin to steer Eric’s thought in a different direction. He knows he has to do something about Griffen but, what?
Will Griffen be able to come to terms with his part in being a bystander and a victim? Will he be able to confront Griffen in a positive and effective way? Will he survive seventh grade?
One of the best aspects of this book is that is that the conflict is resolved by the characters as real-life kids would without the help of adults or parroting of lessons learned in anti-bullying class. For sure, there are some aspects of the way Eric deals with Griffen that parents and teachers need to at least ask their young readers about. But, the fact that Eric does take action in his situation is important.
Bystander is unquestionably a book for Middle School students. The voice and feel of the book are very middle school. I hope that I can encourage middle school students that I know to read this book. It is a wonderful YA read bursting with discussion opportunities and teachable moments. And, I think Bystander is a very strong contender to win Virginia Readers Choice Award.
Bystander has been nominated for Readers Choice Awards in several states:
-Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award (Vermont)
-South Carolina Junior Book Award
-Kentucky Bluegrass Award
-Oklahoma Sequoia Book Award
-Florida Sunshine State Young Readers Award Master List
-Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Master List
A great Youtube trailer for Bystander can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Vis3I_hXsY
A Discussion Question Guide can be seen at: http://media.us.macmillan.com/discussionguides/9780312379063DG.pdf
Author, James Preller’s website has a lot of great stuff about Bystander, his life as a writer and information on more books that he’s written: http://www.jamespreller.com/q-a/
Preller, J. Bystander. New York: Feiwel & Friends: 2009. Print.