Bystander by James Preller

As a middle school teacher, I see bullying everyday. People who don’t work in education tend to think bullying is only physical- fistfights and the like. But I see name calling, teasing, isolation, rumors, gossip, and much more used to instill fear in students. While most schools have anti-bullying curriculums, it seems that many students tune them out. When you are 11 or 12 years old, the last thing you want to listen to your teachers about is how to get along with your classmates. Everyone knows teachers are ancient and never experienced middle school!

That’s where a book like James Preller’s Bystander comes in.  Eric is the new kid in his Long Island town.  When he meets Griffin and his posse of hangers-on right before school begins he can tell they are a little different.  Over the next few weeks he learns that Griffin is the sort of kid who makes an awful enemy.  Charming and scheming, he is what teachers call an “adult pleaser but kid teaser”.  He is one of those kids with a naturally magnetic personality, one he uses to control the kids around him.  But he always puts on a different face for the adults in his life, such as teachers and parents, and convinces them he is a sweet, mild-mannered child with good morals.

Very quickly Eric realizes that Griffin is a bully.  But he doesn’t do much about it, as a bystander.  Why?  Because he isn’t the target.  As any kid will tell you, stepping in will only make you the bully’s next target.  At least, that’s the line of thought most kids follow.  But when Griffin goes too far Eric begins to notice exactly what he is doing to his so-called friends.  What’s a kid to do when his conscience kicks in but his brain tells him that he will be the next victim if he does anything?

I really enjoyed Bystander.  It’s not an easy book to read.  There were a few times where I felt teachers might enjoy it more than tweens, but the message really hits home.  Kids can be cruel and that doesn’t always mean throwing punches.  Sometimes, it’s the verbal and emotional bullying that is even worse.

What I really loved about this book is the fact that it doesn’t end with the teacher or another adult solving the problem and dealing with the bullies.  Eric and his friends need to decide for themselves how to handle the situation.  As a teacher, I admit to being a little frustrated at first when I read the last page.  But then I realized it is exactly what tween are looking for.  They don’t need us stepping in all the time and solving their problems.  They need to learn how to work within their own cliques and peer groups.  As much as we might want to see the bully “get what he deserves”, that isn’t always realistic and kids know that.  So kudos to James Preller!

I look forward to adding this one to my classroom library.  I think it would make a great read aloud or literature circle title.  I can imagine some great conversations and writing stemming from the story.

*My own purchased copy. This is a Cybils nominee and all opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the panel as a whole.

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8 Responses

  1. I’m sold! I will definitely be looking out for it.

  2. [...] My thanks to Sarah at The Reading Zone for her thoughtful review of Bystander, which you can read in full here. [...]

  3. Thank you, Sarah, for that thoughtful review. Very much appreciated. I used it as a starting point for my own blog entry this morning, hopefully bringing together a few scattered thoughts that have been rattling around in my head of late:

    http://www.jamespreller.com/2009/12/07/bystander-reviews-the-reading-zone-etc/

  4. Another book that tackles the issue of bullying very well is The Revealers, by Doug Wilhelm. I am reading it to my sixth grade LA class, and they seem to be enjoying it.
    There is also a great section where one student is talking about dinosaurs, and the other is talking about bullies; a great metaphor dinosaurs/bullies – predators/prey

  5. I had just finished reading this book yesturday for my Summer Reading. It took me two days to read it. I enjoyed it, though some parts became a little boring. The end is where most of the action is. Also, the book was not the easiest to read mainly because it had 34 chapters and each chapter had a diffrent event happening that mostly never had relation to the previous. So, there is alot going on…you really need to have a good memory and if not take notes. But overall its a great book and this is being said from someone that dislikes novels. ( Bystander is a novel ) I beleive that its a good book for both boys and girls, considering there are problems between each gender during the story. Its a very likable selection and I truly think that you will love it throughoutly!! Please leave comments(; And thank you Sarah for the well written Reveiw! Coming from someone that has already read the book…you were right on! Nice work! Happy reading everyone!

  6. i love this book im reading the book in my class but im not finsh yet and im bad at spelling and ela

  7. I enjoyed your review of Bystander. My grandson read it and asked me if I wanted to read it. I was very impressed and am working on a page on Squidoo.com about it. I would love to link to this review if you don’t object.

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