About a Bully
Author: Amanda Maciel
Bullies. We hear a lot about them these days. They are on your children’s computer, in their schools, on their cell phones and in their heads. Their cruelty makes you cringe, their pranks fill you with outrage, and sometimes, they feel uncomfortably familiar. For all our righteous anger, no one seems to have the answer to how to stop a bully – and no one seems to be willing to admit that adolescence is simply sheer hell, no matter who you are. In Tease, author Amanda Maciel puts both the bully and the situation that created her front and center, defying society’s wish to only look at the victims and clutch our pearls. In doing so she sheds a lot of light on why we have the problem and even offers a glimpse of hope that we might make our children safer in their schools and homes.
That’s a big task to take on in a slim YA novel, but Maciel gives it her all. We focus on two periods of time with our main character Sara. The first is the winter of her junior year in high school. She has a senior boyfriend, a super popular best friend and seems like the kind of girl who Has It All. She also has two younger brothers for whom she is responsible for quite a bit of the time (since the divorce, she has picked up the childcare slack since her mother works full time), a passive, insecure personality and a tendency to allow her forceful BFF to dictate her actions. By the second time period, the end of the summer after her junior year, all of those elements have combined into a nightmare which leaves one child dead by her own hand while another, including Sara, being held responsible.
Tease is Sara’s story, and we hear it from her. Sara is a bully. Sara does some horrible things. Sara is weak and powerless in her own life, both at home and at school. Sara is in denial about the severity and cruelty of her actions. Sara blames her problems on others. Sara is desperate for acceptance. Sara’s moods are dependent on the actions of others.
Plain and simple, Sara is a child.
What makes Tease a powerful statement about bullying is how we see Sara struggle to accept responsibility for her actions, while at the same time we also, in our heart of hearts, understand how she got where she is. And on some level we sympathize. The social pressure, the unrelenting push and pull of high school politics, the undeveloped sense of self and the enormous impact of a strained family situation have all helped make Sara into a girl who is desperate to fit in, desperate to hold her social ground, desperate to keep what she thinks are the important things in her life. She doesn’t think she’s a bully, she’s so entirely focused on herself that any thought of the effect of her actions on others is lost in the din of her own insecurity.
The scary thing is that Sara could be anyone’s child. No one is immune to such forces as an adolescent and as that realization dawns, the book goes from being a tragic story of bullying to being a staggering condemnation of our cultural blindness to the perils of being a teenager. There are a lot of victims here, and a lot of blame to be shared.
I highly recommend Tease for both teenagers and their parents. As adults we think we remember what it was like to spend our days steeping in the toxic brew of hormones and hubris that is high school, but we don’t. Teenagers think they know it all and can handle anything, but they don’t, and they can’t. Tease is a great conversation starter for parents and teens (my daughter will be reading it) about a subject that is very rarely examined from the perpetrators point of view. 5 stars.
– S. Millinocket