A bullied boy hatches a plan to get revenge on his bullies through social media in this novel for middle schoolers.
Zachariah Kermit Higgins—he prefers “Zach”—is short and the skinniest, clumsiest 13-year-old in seventh grade. He’s picked on by many, but the worst for the last two years has been Billie, a girl who loves to mock Zach’s height. After her latest humiliation, Zach’s shame turns to rage, and he vows to teach her a lesson. Also due for revenge is Gem, the leather-wearing leader of three mean, tough girls who push Zach around—sometimes into lockers. Zach develops an elaborate, well-researched plan, creating two fake identities on Facebook tailored to Billie’s and Gem’s personalities. Billie gets “Chad,” blond, blue-eyed, and athletic; for Gem, there’s “Samson,” who’s tough and loves wrestling videos. Zach cultivates these friendships through comments on his marks’ pages and private messages, hoping to learn secrets and weaknesses that will set up both girls for public humiliation. Chad succeeds in manipulating Billie’s emotions, but when Gem reveals to Samson her own history of being bullied and her family’s economic difficulties, Zach starts feeling uneasy. Things don’t work out exactly as he’d planned, but in the process of trying to make things right, Zach gains new maturity and insights. In her debut novel, Wood addresses several contemporary concerns, including the economic insecurity that affects Gem and her family. Her attention to kids’ use of social media is especially notable. While several novels for middle schoolers address bullying, few discuss catfishing (making false identities on social media for deceptive ends), something young people should be aware of. Zach has an engaging, age-appropriate voice. He’s both thoughtful and imperfect, his growing conscience becoming the story’s true centerpiece. Wood nicely shows how Zach, despite chafing at his parents’ restrictions, also is strengthened by their attentive care. Zach’s make-it-right campaign is a step-by-step process rather than one grand gesture, a good touch. It’s something of a shame, though, that the happy ending seems dependent on conforming: Zach gets taller and more muscular, and Gem becomes more girly.
An entertaining, insightful novel that urges understanding over retaliation.