Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Another Good Book

Since the last post, I finished three more books: Hush, Hush and Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick and 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. The first two were pretty quick forbidden romance novels aimed at my core group of middle school students. The student who read The Mortal Instruments series recommended this book series to me, and I couldn't return to school without having read it. For some reason, if a kid is kind enough to recommend a book to me, I'll take a swing at it. After all, I give them suggestions all the time, and I hope that they listen every now and then.

But then there was 13 Reasons Why. I bought it before we took our anniversary trip, but I didn't read it then. I have read six books since I bought it, all of which were purchased after I bought this rather slim novel. What was holding me back? It's about a girl who commits suicide and 13 reasons why she chose to do it. I'm not giving away any secrets here. If you read the back of the cover, it clearly states that she kills herself. But it's the reasons why - her encounters with those around her - that prevented me from cracking it open. I was afraid that it would be sad (it was). I was afraid that it would be maudlin (it wasn't). I was afraid that the author wouldn't have an authentic voice for a girl (he did). Turns out I should have read it a lot sooner than I did . . . but definitely not on vacation.

The story is told by two different people: Hannah, the girl who decides to commit suicide, and Clay, one of 13 people to receive a box of audio tapes from Hannah. On the tapes she narrates the different reasons that brought her to her ultimate decision, not indicting the people to whom she devotes one side of a tape to, but clearly making the case that their actions or lack thereof caused her pain. While the final act is an extremely drastic measure, the acts from all the characters leading up to it are all too common.

It's a young adult book, but it's a quick read . . . go ahead and crack it open
I teach in a middle school. Hardly a day goes by when you don't see a student who is upset with someone else. It ranges from pencil tapping that drives a person to the point of madness to insensitive comments about looks, clothing, body odor . . . anything. Bullying is a constant topic in society partially because it's everywhere. And you know what? It should be discussed. Parents need to talk to their kids about it and get them to understand that it's perfectly fine to tell someone when they think they are being bullied. And keep telling them that. If you think your child is being bullied and they tell you they've talked to a teacher or a guidance counselor about it, take that extra step and call the teacher. Trust me on this one . . . kids often don't tell us a thing. They might say that they had a bad day, and we ask what happened. "Oh, I forgot my lunch, and I had to call my mom to bring it to school, but she left for work already, so now I'll have to charge it at lunch." This, to a teacher, translates to: not much. But what the student really meant to say was, "I was so worried about riding to school on the bus with students X, Y, and Z, and I forgot my lunch, and now I'll have to charge at lunch, which means getting up in front of students X, Y, and Z at lunch, and they'll whisper behind their hands at me." See? Same stories . . . clearly. When in doubt, call you child's teacher and ask. We'd rather know so that we can look out for it.

A huge source of bullying comes online. Teachers can't control that. But you can. Your child has a Facebook? Fine. But they need to understand that you as the parent have the right to review every single thing on that. Who they have as friends. What they like. Who they are chatting with. What the comments are. What the pictures look like. Investigate. You would be shocked at what is posted on there. One of my former students, who was a darling, sweet, innocent girl, had a profile pic of her doing her best "fuck you" pose, complete with the middle finger. She popped up as a person I might know*. You're right I know her . . . and promptly told her to remove that photo. "Would your mother be okay with that?" I asked. "No . . . she'd scream and yell," she replied. "Then why do you want the first thing that new friends see to be that photo?" I asked. There was no reply. Investigate what their online profile is like, and keep doing it.

We also can't control what they text to one another. In school, our students are supposed to leave their cell phones in their lockers turned off, and we do everything we can to prevent texting. But it happens. Girls keep their phones in their bras or boots. Boys keep them in baggy pants or in hoodie pockets. Again, you're the one paying the bills . . . so check the texts and picture messages. And investigate. Talk about what the language means. About how those pictures never, ever, ever go away. And when all else fails, don't ever let them forget that you love them unconditionally.

I've been at school all week, working on getting the last bits of our online curriculum done. I have a feeling that this is going to be a labor of love and something that is never quite finished. And the whole time I've been working on it, I wonder what my new group of students will be like. Hopefully they take my suggestions.

- Jill

* For the record, I don't have any students or former students as friends on social media sites. When they graduate, I'll happily accept them.


  1. What a great post. I've seen this book and picked it up a few times but never bought it. I think I will now. :)

  2. I will have to pick up the son just started middle school on Thursday! Deep breath!