Wednesday, June 5, 2013 |
Bullying has emerged as a major public concern in recent years, and the federal government has just announced it will pledge $250,000 towards a program that will train 2,400 young people to deliver anti-bullying workshops in their local communities.
The subject of bullying is complex, and both fiction and non-fiction writers have explored its myriad aspects -- from the reasons why someone bullies another to the distress and devastating long-term repercussions for the victims to strategies on overcoming this abuse. Below, we highlight five recent books that look at bullying from various perspectives.
Sticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon
This book by journalist Emily Bazelon makes the interesting point that rates of bullying over the last 25 years around the world haven't really risen, but we're paying much more attention to it now as it has evolved to include cyberbullying. The fact that teasing and cruelty have migrated to social networking platforms and text messages means victims of bullying may have an even more difficult time ignoring their aggressors.
"It can feel prevalent, 24/7, and very hard to escape, and I think that has really caught our attention culturally," Bazelon said in an interview on Here and Now.
The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen
In this award-winning young adult novel, Susin Nielsen explores the tragic consequences of a school shooting from a unique perspective -- that of the shooter's younger brother, Henry. Henry's brother, the young gunman, brings a rifle to school one day and kills his long-time bully before turning the weapon on himself. This puts his family through incredible trauma and breaks them apart. Henry tries to start over in a new place while struggling to make sense of his life in the context of the tragedy. The idea for the story came to Nielsen after she learned that one of the Columbine shooters had a brother.
"And for some reason, that just hit me in the gut," Nielsen told North by Northwest in an interview. "And I thought, wow, I've never ever thought about the siblings who are left behind, the family members who are left behind." The thought stayed with her, and she began to wonder, "what would life be like for the younger brother of a boy who was so relentlessly bullied he saw no other way out?"
The Way of the Fight by Georges St-Pierre
UFC champion Georges St-Pierre is one of the most dominant mixed martial arts fighters of all time, but he started off as a youngster fighting to defend himself, not for competition. As a schoolboy, growing up in Saint-Isidore, Quebec, St-Pierre was a skinny, awkward kid who had gum thrown in his hair and was beaten down by bullies. His early struggles sparked an interest in and lifelong passion for martial arts, which helped him develop both physically and emotionally.
"That's what martial arts taught me. It taught me confidence ... Even if you're not confident, to act like you are confident. And you become confident."
In essence, martial arts and fighting gave him important tools to use in his life, which is a prominent theme in his new book The Way of the Fight. The memoir, told in St-Pierre's words but ghostwritten, chronicles his long journey from being that vulnerable kid in the schoolyard to the international sports icon he is today.
Oddly Normal by John Schwartz
Direct confrontation isn't the only form of bullying. When you live in an environment in which the word "gay" is used in a pejorative way (as in "that's so gay") or homophobic words are commonplace, a gay person can suffer deeply whether or not someone else is attacking them personally. Journalist John Schwartz's teenage son Joseph was not bullied because of being gay. But Schwartz attributes much of his son's difficulties (and his attempted suicide) to suffering from the constant stress of hearing negative remarks about gay people and the fear of being targeted by bullies in his high-school environment.
After the attempted suicide, the family turned to resources available at New York City's LGBT Community Center, and Joseph became happier and "more comfortable in his own skin."
Schwartz said that he wrote his memoir, with the blessing of his son, in order "to reach other parents, other families. You know, one of the things that helps people understand that being gay isn't a choice, isn't wicked, is just knowing someone who is gay. The idea was if people got to know our family, they might think that the way we looked at things was okay."
Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked by James Lasdun
The media spotlight tends to be focused on bullying as it affects young people, but adults can also be the target of vicious harassment. In this memoir, author and creative writing instructor James Lasdun describes the bizarre and disturbing experience of having a former student vow to destroy his career and launch an online campaign attacking his character. The ordeal began in 2005 when the former student contacted him by email asking for help with a novel she had started writing in his class a couple of years before. He offered his guidance, but found her emails becoming increasingly flirtatious. When Lasdun made it clear that he was happily married, her correspondence grew increasingly aggressive and paranoid. It wasn't long before online postings accused him of sexual misconduct.
When the harassment first started, he believed "this was a very rare, unusual, bizarre thing that was happening to me." Lasdun now realizes that it's commonplace. "I think it's a different kind of mentality from the sort of person who would physically stalk and show up on someone's doorstep," he said. "What the internet offers is this completely unfiltered transmission of thought to thought, of psyche to psyche, and whatever you're feeling you can just sort of put it down and send it out there, and you can do it all in the confines of your room, without any actual contact."