A meticulous anatomy of a bullying victim.
Determinedly normal Eric Haskins is dumbfounded when his best friend, just back from camp, joins with a couple of other boys to call him “Grunt” at the beginning of sixth grade. Pretty soon, Eric is the class pariah; even decent and stalwart Melody turns away. A couple of chance remarks convince Eric that he’s just the latest in a long line of sixth-grade Grunts and that the bullies are actually working from a manual. Readers know that Eric’s right, because interspersed with his journal entries chronicling his miserable year are excerpts from the titular Bully Book, which advises, “You have to create yourself. And to keep yourself safe, you have to create other people too, like the Grunt.” Eric’s quest to uncover the Bully Book is genuinely suspenseful. The juxtaposition of Eric’s journal against the Bully Book allows readers to see both the bullies’ methodology and Eric’s unwitting complicity. Gale gutsily portrays a gloves-off sixth-grade classroom in which variations of “gay” are flung around as insults (a usage that Eric articulately and bravely challenges). While it’s hard to imagine even the numbest substitute teacher routinely allowing a vocabulary lesson to become a bullying opportunity (“Eric Haskins is generally stupid”), the other adults in Eric’s life are convincingly ineffectual or self-deluded.
A compelling and unusual look at a complex and intractable problem that succeeds admirably as story as well. (Fiction. 8-12)