In a cautionary tale about merciless bullying, does generic characterization allow readers to look in a mirror, or does it dilute the point?
Dell’s callous father has abandoned her; her drug-addicted mom’s emotionally absent and cold. Former best friend Cara now hangs out with mean, popular kids who demand that Dell repeatedly perform a mooing sumo wrestler imitation. She always acquiesces, humiliated. The plot marches on, presenting trauma after trauma without nuance. Dell’s former crush, Brandon, cajoles her upstairs at a drunken party and rapes her; then, “BEWARE OF THE RAPIST BOVINE,” trumpets an anonymous sign on Dell’s locker as rumor breaks out that Dell raped Brandon. Positive that nobody would believe that “the enormous, ugly, fat girl…was raped by the hottest guy in school” and viewing Cara’s choice between her and the good-looking bullies as “being offered a bowl of shit or a bowl of ice cream,” Dell’s too self-loathing and depressed to notice the two adults who might help. With nowhere to turn except food (chips are “greasy, salty calm”) and her baby sister (a well-written dash of warmth, but toddlers can’t save teens), Dell just wants everything to end.
It’s subtle as a truck—see Ellen Hopkins’ Impulse (2007) for a complex, layered treatment of suicide—but the stock portrayals may let readers (bullied, bully or observer) slot themselves in where appropriate and heed this red flag. (Fiction. 14 & up)