by Joe Lawlor
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Back Cover: Seventh grader Jun Li is a brilliant student, more comfortable around computers than people. But his world turns upside down when the principal accuses him of a cyberbullying incident. To prove his innocence, Jun has seven days to track down the true culprit. Jun’s investigation will bring him face-to-face with computer hackers, a jealous boyfriend, and more than one student who has been a victim of bullying. But he discovers along the way that everyone’s story is more complicated than it seems—and that the people he meets might have more in common than they think.
First Sentence: Jun approached the teacher’s desk with short, hesitant steps.
Jun Li has spent most of his school days away from other students. He is a smart kid, great with computers, but hesitant around people—except his best friend and neighbor, Chris. Chris is also a seventh-grader at Jun’s school. She is taller than average for her age, while Jun is smaller. They make an unmistakable pair when they walk down the hallways at school. Then Jun has the worst day of his life.
It starts with a whispered hiss and threat in home period. Then an eighth-grade clod by the name of Charlie Bruno attacks Jun in the hallway. Then the principal calls for Jun over the PA system. That is never good. The principle accuses Jun of cyberbullying the school’s worst bully, Kimmie Cole. Seems she has an unorthodox way of maintaining her slim shape and Jun let the entire school in on her secret. Now, Kimmie’s mother is threatening to go to the police. Jun pleads his innocence to the principle, who gives him one week to prove it by finding the real cyberbully.
Jun talks like a small adult and does not really understand the subtext of teenage girl’s language. Luckily, Jun has Chris, who speaks and understands “kid.” Together, they interview several possible suspects, including the library assistant who told the principal Jun was on the cyberbully. Along the way, the students get more aggressive with their verbal attacks on Jun. Charlie tries to “kill” Jun on more than one occasion, but Chris was there to help stop the bully. Even the teachers begin to treat Jun with disdain. In the end, Jun must find the cyberbully who posted the pictures of Kimmie, get them to confess or find hard evidence as proof, and hope his mother stays unaware of his school troubles. Was Jun simply at the wrong place at the wrong time? If so, can he find the real cyberbully and clear his name in one week?
Lately, bully-themed stories cross my desk weekly. Of them all, Bully.com is the most realistic in terms of middle school student behavior. The author understands this age group, especially the female student and female groups. The story also has one of the most surprising endings. The culprit is never who you think and that is very true for Bully.com.
I did have a few questions. The principle states the school has a “zero-tolerance policy on bullying,” yet Kimmie Cole, the victim in Jun’s cyberbully case, is the school’s biggest bully. She regularly gets back at students by posting something humiliating online, yet she’s never been expelled. Most of the students, Charlie Bruno in particular, verbally and physically abuse Jun. None faces consequences. The zero-tolerance policy seems to be selective. Is it simply acceptable to bully a bully? No, wait that is what Jun is accused of doing. Hm. Not until Jun outs the real cyberbully does the principle tell students he will not tolerate any more abuse against Jun. Why did he tolerate it the previous week?
Then there were some odd sentences. Such as, “Not could he wrap his brain around was that he had until Monday—seven days—to find the cyberbully.” (emphasis mine) And there is at least one loose thread that most will want answered. When called Jun’s girlfriend, why does it bother Chris to the point of furry and violence? She goes after any student who makes this statement, even in jest. At the end, she has no problem with such statements. Why did she have such a reaction and what has changed?
Now, for the good. Bully.com is realistic, well written, and the plot stays on course. There are a few twists; the biggest appropriately at the end. Some twists do not surprise readers. Others are difficult to see coming. The twist at the end of Bully.com is a guaranteed surprise. Author Joe Lawlor understands the mind of the middle school girl. He also understands the behavior of girl cliques. The pack mentality is clear in this story and spot on. Many times, his writing reminded of my own middle grade and high school years.
Of all the bully-themed books out this year, Bully.com is different. Jun Li, the accused, is also the detective, trying to clear his name. The real bully will surprise you, as it did me. The way that Jun delivers the cyberbully to the principle is unique, dramatic, and a bit humorous. It is also one of the best reveals from a new author.
Some parents may worry about the violence in bully-themed books, and it is a justified concern. Bully.com does not have much violence. Charlie Bruno delivers more threats than punches. Still, when Bruno attacks Jun, you can easily visualize what is happening. None of this will give any child a nightmare or make him fearful to attend school. Thanks to the author, of the many bully-themed stories read this year, Bully.com is the most realistic. This is Joe Lawlor’s debut novel.
NOTE: Online, bully.com will take you to a German site about a game called Bullyland.
by Joe Lawlor website blog facebook twitter Eerdmans Books for Young Readers website blog facebook twitter Released April 1, 2013 ISBN: 978-0-8028-5413-1 248 Pages Ages: 10 to 14 . Copyright © 2013 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers Text: Copyright © 2013 by Joe Lawlor
DONATED TO LOCAL PUBLIC LIBRARY
- Combating cyberbullying (bchongkong.wordpress.com)
- Fla. house passes `cyberbullying’ bill (wptv.com)
- Review of Bully.com (NY Journal of Books)