Although summer isn’t officially over, every August brings back-to-school sales, the return of the college students, and the celebratory first-day school pictures posted on Facebook. Unfortunately for some, it also brings the fear of facing the classroom bully again.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad recently announced the second annual Bullying Prevention Summit he will host on Nov. 4 at Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines. Aimed at finding “practical steps” for preventing bullying, Iowa’s bully laws also will be explored. A resource list and more information about the summit can be found at preventbullying.iowa.gov.
Candlewick Press released two heartbreakingly humorous Young Adult novels this year, both featuring courageous female protagonists overcoming bullying.
In “Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass” by Meg Medina (Candlewick, 2013, $16.99), 15-year old Piddy Sanchez has been at her new school for five weeks with every intent of keeping up her A-average, positive attitude and future dreams of becoming an elephant scientist. Things change, though, once she is warned of Yaqui’s desires, a girl Piddy has never heard of. When insidious signs appear: “SKANK” carved into her desk, a chocolate milk bomb thrown at her in the lunchroom, and someone snatching her elephant pendant off her neck from behind in the school’s crowded hallways, Piddy’s new life of fear begins. This fear consumes and changes her, alienating all around her — her hardworking mom, her best friend, even her mom’s favorite friend, Lila, who’s like an aunt to Piddy. As the bullying gets worse and worse, the only person she feels connected to is a rough-edged boy who lives in Lila’s building and whose father is horribly abusive to him and his mother. Despite where he comes from, he is Piddy’s alter ego, and one of the most tender and strong characters in the book.
Medina was inspired to write this story from her own high school experience of being similarly confronted. She remembers, “It was a struggle to find my identity and inner strength — as a student, as a young woman, as a Latina. I was in a fight for my dignity.” By book’s end, Piddy is on her way to finding dignity and the bright future out from under bullying’s darkened secrecy.
e. E. Charlton-Trujillo’s “Fat Angie,” (Candlewick, 2013, $16.99) is told in a third-person omniscient voice which took a bit to get used to, but makes sense in retrospect. Referred to as “Fat Angie” constantly throughout the book, the removed, but matter-of-fact narrator tells it like it is, showing us all the pain and awkwardness being obese in high school brings.
The book opens with a fight scene between Fat Angie and the cruel, popular basketball star Stacy Ann. Although Fat Angie is passive and submissive in the first half of the book, the opening shows Stacy Ann criticizing Angie’s sister, a soldier who was publicly tortured in video clips and is now missing in Iraq. This gaping wound of Angie’s lost sister is the most painful button in Angie’s life, uncharacteristically prompting her to rage against Stacy Ann. This pain and loss of her sister is the same button that caused Angie to slit her wrists at a pep rally where she ran onto the court screaming, “We’re all killers!” It’s the same button that further withdrew her busy attorney mother into a full-blown “can’t-be-bothered mother.” And it’s the same button that turned her adoptive older brother, Wang, from decent to cruel, giving Angie little relief from bullying at home too. It isn’t until a beautiful, new, retro girl shows up at school named KC Romance who is drawn to Angie, seeing her for who she is instead of what she looks like, when things begin to change. Angie is a character to root for.
This summer, Charlton-Trujillo embarked cross-country to connect with at-risk youth in a tour called At Risk Summer, in which she led creative burst workshops to discuss issues focused around bullying with the very kids who need it the most. This led to the idea of filming the tour, which will soon become a documentary that can, ideally, reach even further to other at-risk youth suffering from bullying, self-image issues, or other trauma.
Wendy Henrichs is a children’s author living in Iowa City.
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