All posts tagged bullying

The Golden Child – Wendy James

Published July 22, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Can bad children happen to good mothers? A totally absorbing novel, for readers of Liane Moriarty, Lionel Shriver and Christos Tsiolkas.

Blogger Lizzy’s life is buzzing, happy, normal. Two gorgeous children, a handsome husband, destiny under control. For her real-life alter-ego Beth, things are unravelling. Tensions are simmering with her husband, mother-in-law and even her own mother. Her teenage daughters, once the objects of her existence, have moved beyond her grasp and one of them has shown signs of, well, thoughtlessness …
Then a classmate of one daughter is callously bullied and the finger of blame is pointed at Beth’s clever, beautiful child. Shattered, shamed and frightened, two families must negotiate worlds of cruelty they are totally ill-equipped for.
This is a novel that grapples with modern-day spectres of selfies, selfishness and cyberbullying. It plays with our fears of parenting, social media and Queen Bees, and it asks the question: just how well do you know your child?

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to Harper 360, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers for sending me a copy of this fascinating novel in exchange for an honest review. When the call for reviewers went up on Twitter, I was hugely grateful for my good blogger friend, Janel @ Keeper Of Pages tagging me in the post for as soon as I had read the synopsis, I instantly knew it was something I had to get on board with. I was intrigued by the idea of a narrative that focuses on the intensity of friendships between young adolescents and the all too prevalent rise of cyber bullying with its devastating effects. I have to be honest and admit I did see “what was coming,” but it didn’t effect my enjoyment of the story in the slightest. It was still a compelling read and I found the bullying part in particular was handled both deftly and sensitively by the author.

Wendy James, author of The Golden Child.

Not only does the female lead in this story share my first name, she also shares my hobby and of course, that’s blogging. This book seemed like the perfect fit and I was eager to get started, especially as I feel so passionately about the toll bullying can have on a person – unfortunately, I speak from multiple personal experiences. This is the story of Beth, who uproots her family, including two daughters (one on the border of adolescence, one adolescent) back to her home country of Australia from America where the girls grew up in order to give them all a better life. Once the girls are enrolled in school, it’s not long before the tension starts to rise. Enter the world of cliques, the nature of popularity, how it feels to be an outsider and horrifyingly, how the Internet and social media can use a person’s insecurities against themselves in the worst ways with potentially life-altering consequences.

Newcastle, Australia where the Mahony family move to begin their new lives.

As with most of these books, saying any more would definitely be giving away some spoilers for the novel and you already know I’m not one to do that, right? Let me just say the author has astutely captured what it’s like to be a teenage girl when fitting in and having people “like” you seems to be the only thing worth worrying about in your life. I remember those days so well. I attended boarding school for six years in Scotland whilst my parents were in Germany. My dad was in the army and we moved around every three years so they thought sending me away to school would be a more stable environment for my studies. As you might be able to imagine, I didn’t have the best time there and it was difficult, my mum being in a foreign country, I couldn’t just go home at the end of the day for a hug and get away from it all.

This is where The Golden Child really spoke to me. I felt the pain of the girl who was being victimised so intensely and can only thank my lucky stars social media wasn’t a thing when I was at school, I’m not sure in all honesty if I would have survived my years there emotionally intact! Then there are the bullies, the Queen Bees, the Mean Girls that everyone fawns over and begs their approval – I saw so much of people I have known in these girls but also, to try and approach it from a different angle, could see how seemingly innocent jibes could get so badly out of control. Sometimes, I really don’t believe bullies realise the repercussions of their actions or how it might affect a person right the way through their life and more certainly needs to be done to try and educate people about why this sort of thing is NOT okay.

As I alluded to in the opening paragraph of my review, unfortunately I did see where this story was going and although that was a bit of a shame, I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this novel to anyone interested in the topic, particularly in how extreme and suffocating adolescence can feel for each child going through it. It was a hard-hitting, extremely necessary read and the author approached this rather thorny(but VERY relevant) issue absolutely beautifully.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Stations Of The Cross by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Published July 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Stations Of The Cross all about?:

Stations Of The Cross is a coming of age story about two young girls from different religions and how peer pressure affects their friendship.

What did I think?:

I was quite sad when I realised that Stations Of The Cross was the final story in this collection by Julie Orringer. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her work and will definitely be checking out more things by her in the future. If I think back over the entire collection, I believe my favourite story would have to be Note To Sixth-Grade Self as it was a story that really affected me personally but honest to God, there are no complete bloopers to be found at all. Yes, there were some stories I’ve appreciated more than others but unlike a few other collections in my Short Stories Challenge, I found it difficult to find a story here that I really disliked.

Anyway, back to Stations Of The Cross which is, as any practising/lapsed Catholic might have guessed is firmly rooted in religion, namely Catholicism. Our main character Lila however is Jewish and is absolutely fascinated by her best friend Carney’s Catholic faith. Lila and her mother have uprooted themselves from easy, breezy, inclusive New Orleans to a very different part of America – South Louisiana which they’ve found (in some cases) to have completely different ideals from the ones they are used to. For example, Carney is getting ready to celebrate her First Communion and is in uproar about the fact that her “bastard” cousin Dale is going to be invited. She has never met him before, his mother, Carney’s Aunt Marian caused shame to the family when she was determined to have the baby out of wedlock and to top it all off the baby’s father was black.

Lila can’t understand what all the fuss is about but then New Orleans appeared to welcome everyone regardless of colour or creed and it is only when her family has moved to South Louisiana that she realises the depth of hidden feelings unleashed to anyone who is “a bit different,” even herself and her mother are treated as outsiders for their Jewish faith. Aunt Marian and Dale arrive and things appear to be mellow enough (apart from the hideous whisperings from the family gathered in the back garden) but things soon escalate into places that Lila cannot believe she ever allowed herself to be taken to. It’s a great little story about growing up, how peer pressure is so damned and frustratingly effective and how dangerous and cruel some children can be when left to their own devices.

Julie Orringer chose to end How To Breathe Underwater with a real blinder of a story. I was raised Catholic myself although have not been to church for many, many years and do not practice the religion at all. In that way, it was quite nostalgic as I still have quite happy memories of my own First Communion (let me just hurriedly state it was NOTHING like this one though!). Additionally, I also enjoyed that the author chose to bring two characters together with very different beliefs/religions and explore their friendship, which can often be so tenuous and traumatic at that age, especially if one child is more of a “ringleader” than the other. Some may say that it goes to extremes, especially at the end but I think I have to disagree. I have personal experience with peer pressure in my past and can completely understand how controlling and devastating outcomes can be if people get a little too carried away. Of course I don’t condone the behaviour of the children in this short story in any way, shape or form and wanted to shake them all for being so stupid and heartless but it just shows that this narrative really got under my skin and that’s the best kind of short story in my eyes.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: An Anxious Man by James Lasdun from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Short Stories Challenge – The Graveless Doll Of Eric Mutis by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Published July 24, 2016 by bibliobeth


What’s The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis all about?:

The final story in Karen Russell’s excellent short story collection focuses on a group of school friends who come across a scarecrow tied to a tree in a park that bears a striking resemblance to a young boy that they used to bully.

What did I think?:

There has been some real corkers of stories (and very few damp squibs!) in Vampires In The Lemon Grove, which was the first thing I’ve read from the author, Karen Russell. Looking back on the collection now I’ve completed it, stand out favourites for me have to include Reeling For The Empire, The Barn At The End Of Our Term and Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating so I have to admit, I was expecting great things for the final story. To be honest, I was left feeling slightly disappointed by the ending as I felt the story had SO much more potential and things sort of… well, fizzled out by the end, with no clear indications of what was going to happen.

Generally, this story had a strong sense of Stephen King about it. (If you didn’t know, I’m a huge SK fan and that’s therefore a massive compliment!). The main protagonist is a young boy, part of a gang of friends known locally as Camp Dark – don’t judge them on the name, they designed it when they were much younger. One day in their local hang-out they see something that shocks them to their very core. It’s a scarecrow, tied to a tree. However, this is no ordinary scarecrow, it looks frighteningly familiar and then they figure out that the wax face attached to the scarecrow resembles a young boy that used to attend their school, Eric Mutis whom they nicknamed “Mutant” due to him looking a bit different and suffering from epilepsy. They used to bully this boy mercilessly whilst he was at the school, fists and all, but he’s recently disappeared, never to be seen again – until now.

The scarecrow freaks them all out, especially our main protagonist who seems to be dogged with guilt about the way he treated Eric whilst he was at school with them. Then strangely enough, pieces of the scarecrow start to go missing. At first, the other boys think our protagonist is to blame and he is playing a trick on them but this certainly is not the case. Bit by bit, the scarecrow continues to lose his appendages until just his head is left and each day as this happens, our boy feels more and more scared and regretful of his past actions.

This story had such an interesting premise and I was hooked most of the way through, intrigued to find out exactly what was happening and if the scarecrow had a darker message behind it. It was fast paced and more than a little creepy as the author plays on the reader’s emotions, the mystery of the situation and the darker secret that our protagonist holds that the rest of the gang was completely unaware of. I was however, very disappointed by the ending and did feel it had the potential to finish on a “bang,” rather than fizzle out the way I felt it did. Please don’t let my opinion put you off though – the build up on this story is very intense and what I may have disliked, many other readers may love.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Adventure Of The Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes


Short Stories Challenge – Note to Sixth-Grade Self by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Published January 4, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s Note to Sixth Grade Self all about?:

Note to Sixth Grade Self reveals a woman remembering her school days where had a turbulent and emotional time as a social outcast. Her purpose in re-visiting the past seems to be telling herself what she “should” and “shouldn’t” have done in particularly harrowing situations in her adolescence.

What did I think?:

I’m not sure where even to begin with this review, this story is one of the most powerful I have ever read and really affected me emotionally, to the point where I’m going to find it very difficult to write. Our narrator is female and appears to be looking back at a particular time in her adolescence when she was in sixth grade. She has a great passion for dancing and is both excited and nervous about going to her dance class, having practised her beloved cha cha cha routine with her father at home. From the beginning however, her memories of this time in her life are etched with sadness as she tells her sixth-grade self what she “should,” and “shouldn’t” do. This ranges from the mundane tasks like getting off the bus at the correct stop to interacting with her classmates, sometehing she obviously finds very difficult. At the dance class, the group is split into two sides, boys and girls and our narrator frets about what she should do in order to get a partner and not end up dancing with another girl when she is not picked. She looks to the “popular” girls, the queens of mean, Patricia and Cara for cues on how she should behave, stand, etc and although in the end she is paired with a boy with warts on his hands (which sends the mean girls into fits of laughter, of course) she is eager to show the dance teacher how hard she has been practising as there is a chance she may be picked to demonstrate the correct way to do the dance at the end of class.

Sure enough, her efforts pay off and she is picked to show the others the dance with the coolest and most popular boy in the class, Eric Cassio who also happens to be Patricia’s boyfriend. Heart-breakingly, even though she knows that she will pay dearly for having danced with him at school the next week, she thinks it has all been worth it. Now, we all know what teenage girls can be like – especially popular teenage girls who are also bullies and the way they treat our narrator for her crime is hideous, involving both emotional and physical violence and plenty of humiliation. There was one particular quote however that spoke volumes to me:

“Back in the classroom, before the teacher gets back, they push their desks into a tight little knot on the other side of the room. Finally you understand the vocabulary word ostracize.”

I thought the way in which the author got inside the mind of an adolescent girl that is being bullied was truly beautiful and although this story was quite painful at times to read, I did thoroughly enjoy it. In the end, Eric Cassio turns out to be a fairly decent guy even if he is not prepared to acknowledge our narrator at school he seems happy to do so in private. So the slight glimmer of hope that appears at the end tastes quite bitter-sweet as the narrator comes to the realisation that nothing is going to change. This is what makes a story like this so brilliant though, as it is painfully real. This is what happens. This is how teenagers react when they are still young enough to worry about losing face in front of their friends. Julie Orringer has written a poignant, excruciating and very memorable story in my opinion that I think should be on a must-read list for any adolescents of the same age. If this story was explored and taught in schools, perhaps bullies may think twice before preying on their victims? Or maybe that’s just my slight glimmer of hope.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: A Terribly Strange Bed by Wilkie Collins from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night