Bullying is currently a concern of many kids and parents. Whether there is more of it occurring than in previous generations or whether more of it is being reported, it is hard to say. But I think can be said that kids and often even adults don’t know what to do when it happens or how to overcome the damage. Mean Girl Makeover, a series of three novels, takes up the topic of bullying. The author is Nancy Rue and the publisher Thomas Nelson (2014, 2015).
Each novel is told in first person and from a different character’s point of view. The first novel, So Not Okay, is told from the perspective of a bystander. Tori initially watches as Kylie and her friends, a group of popular girls at their middle school, make Ginger, a new girl, the object of rejection and public ridicule. Tori surprises herself and horrifies her friends when she offers that Ginger can be a member of their science group. The girls stumble into their science project question: why are some people mean?
With the help of Lydia, an adult, the girls research bullying and eventually create an anti-bullying code. As the bullying escalates and spreads to them, Tori and her friends put into practice some of the strategies Lydia has taught them. The book honestly shows the fears, risks and missteps, as well as successes, that may occur when a bystander decides to not just stand by.
In the next book, You Can’t Sit with Us, the story continues but from Ginger’s point of view. Ginger unwisely reveals some sensitive information about herself to Kylie and Kylie’s posse. The posse threaten to make the information public if Ginger maintains her friendship with Tori and the other girls, and if she tells anyone about their threat.
Because Ginger’s test scores show that she is outstanding in reading, she is selected for a special English project. Ginger gets along with her study partner, Colin. After some time he reveals that he was bullied when he was younger. This subplot gives the reader some insight into how bullying may affect boys. The posse take their bullying outside of school to the Internet and even to Ginger’s home. Lydia meets with Ginger on a regular basis helping her to overcome her false self-image and to develop some resistance to being bullied.
The third book, Sorry, I’m Not Sorry, is told from the point of view of the main bully. The novel picks up the story as Kylie, two of her crew and their parents meet with the school principal. These girls were expelled for their bullying. To get back into school in the fall, they must do community service. Kylie is told that she will be permanently expelled if she cannot demonstrate an attitude change. Regular meetings with Lydia are set up to determine whether Kylie will change. Kylie experiences Internet bullying herself.
Working with Lydia, Kylie recognizes that she does have a problem. Volunteering as an assistant in the dance section of a summer arts program helps Kylie see herself and others differently.
The novels are good stories that will engage pre-teens and middle schoolers. Readers will keep reading to find out how the kids will handle the bullying, if it will stop and whether a bully can change. I think they will see themselves in the characters and be fascinated and encouraged with the anti-bullying strategies. These strategies are well woven into the stories and do not come off as preachy.
According to Amazon.com the age range is 9-12, but I have some reservations about that. I think the intensity of some of the bullying (school work ruined, cyber bullying, being locked in a locker) may be too much information for a nine-year-old. Instead parents might consider reading the novels and teaching their younger children how to apply the anti-bullying strategies. Also I think girls older than twelve could still relate to the characters and gain practical helps from the suggested strategies.
Though a middle school is the setting for two of the books, bullying can take place in a variety of settings, so I think home-schoolers would also benefit from reading the novels.
I usually think it is unnecessary to read a series of novels. It can be fun, but not necessary. In the case of these novels though, I think it is necessary. Written from the different viewpoints, the three novels together give a more complete picture of the subject. At first I didn’t like being in Kylie’s point of view in the third, but as I was taken deeper into her life, I developed compassion for her. As I experienced her change, my hopes rose for all bullies.
Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) Two of her published works for children are Marty’s Monster and Jessica Jacobs Did What? Her latest work is I Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.