As an educator in an elementary school,who has experienced bullying by students and regularly witnesses the negative effects of peer pressure, I have recently read three very diverse books on the topic of bullying and peer pressure. Two were novels, and one a tragic true account that has turned into a positive effort to promote compassion and kindness in schools.
The first book I will review is a novel suitable for pre-teens - Grade 5-7 called "The Mother Daughter Book Club" by Heather Vogel Frederick, published by Aladdin Paperbacks, 2007. If anyone has read Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club", it is written in a similar format; the voices of four girls comprise the chapters. The Mother Daughter Book Club is the brainchild of one of the mothers, a librarian who launches a book club for her three friends and their daughters. At first, not all the daughters are interested in the concept for various reasons. The book they choose to read is Little Women; this book is also a delightful review of a classic that happens to take place in the author, Louisa May Alcott's hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. This was also the hometown of author Heather Vogel Frederick when she was a young girl.
As the girls in the group become more acquainted they develop deeper bonds. All the girls have "issues"; there are no perfect girls here, but examples of girls that are doing their best to cope in a variety of challenging personal and family situations. The existence of a rival group of girls led by a meanspirited "friend" who dictates what is cool for the rest of her followers to do or not to do is quite common in the hallways of our schools.
Overall I enjoyed reading this book and am looking forward to the next book in the series: " The Mother Daughter Book Club: Chapter Two" - the club members read "Anne of Green Gables". Finally, there is a list of discussion questions at the end of the book that would be suitable for a book club to use.
The next book, "The Isabel Factor" by Gayle Friesen, Kid's Can Press, 2005 is written for a high school age level audience. The main character, Anna, tells her story in her own voice, telling the story of her experience at summer camp as a Counselor in Training. This is the first time she is at the camp without her best friend, Zoe, which results in her having to adjust to a new cabin mate, Isabel, who is very different from her. After her friend Zoe arrives at the camp Anna realizes that she has to make some hard choices. I won't give away the ending, but Friesen has written a book that teenage girls will be able to relate to.
The final book, based on the true account of the Columbine Tragedy "Rachel's Tears" by Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott ( Rachel's parents) with Steve Rabey, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2008 is a reprint of the original book written in 2000 with new interviews.
As the authors write, this is definately a book that they would have preferred never to have written, but along with the truth of the tragedy they have chosen to bring attention to their daughter's life before she was gunned down in the library of her high school on April 20, 1999. Along with a detailed account of the tragedy, most of the book is a compilation of Rachel's own writings from her journals, up until a few days before her death.
Her writings reveal a young lady who had found significance and security in her relationship with Jesus Christ. As her mother Beth writes (pg.98) "I knew something of Rachel's commitment even before her death and before I read her journals. She was very matter-of-fact about her faith and the demands it placed on her life. That was just who she was. She talked to people about God when she worked at Subway. She reached out to strangers who needed help".
Rachel practiced her faith by "continually finding creative ways to show people the compassion of Christ".
In the account of the tragedy, the truth of what happened is revealed in the chapter "Anatomy of Tragedy"; some of the most disturbing aspects are highlighted by the reference to the contents of the website and videos that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the killers, produced before their deadly rampage that resulted in the deaths of 13 victims and themselves. As Rachel's father Darrell writes (pg. 151)... it seems that Dylan Klebold was powerfully affected by peer pressure... (pg.152) Eric showed off much of his arsenal on some of the videotapes he and Dylan had made in the months before the killings... (pg. 153) In the end, I believe the most crucial factor leading to the Columbine tragedy was that many young people today have been raised in a culture where there is a complete lack of moral or spiritual exposure."
This book is a wake call for parents, educators and teens alike. The positive outcome of this tragedy is that Rachel's parents have dedicated their lives to promoting kindness and compassion in schools. Darrell makes school visits and both maintain seperate websites updating readers on the resources that are available to parents, educators and students.
See the Thomas Nelson Website for more information about this book: http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=1400313473