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In the light of the recent revelation that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney may have bullied a fellow student in high school, something said by character in “The Shift Sticks,” Josh Berk’s story in this collection, gains unexpected relevance. When teenager Bryan Forbes says, “It wasn’t that bad, was it?” to Tiffany Sanz, a girl he and a group of others bullied in elementary school, she replies: “It looks totally different from wherever you sit on the totem pole, my friend. And only people on the top, or at least not on the bottom, would ever, EVER say it wasn’t that bad. It was terrible. There were times, many times, I wished I was dead.”
The authors in Cornered use their stories to take us inside the minds and skins of those who are being bullied, and the bullies themselves, to show readers just how wrong thinking teen-aged harassment is “not that bad” can be. As editor Rhoda Belleza writes in her introduction, after hearing about friends’ experiences being bullied, “Learning these details seems instrumental to my understanding of who they are now – and it inspired me to turn the mirror on myself. It gave me the opportunity to remember a past transgression and infuse this otherwise dark memory with hope – seeing each experience as a marker from which I could measure not only how far I had come, but how much further I wanted to go.”
Cornered reminds readers that being bullied can happen to young people for various reasons, regardless of sexual orientation. While the young girl in Trevor screenwriter James Lecesne’s “Still Not Dead” is lesbian, most of the teens in these stories are not gay, although sometimes, as in Elizabeth Miles’ “Defense Mechanism,” they face accusations of being gay or lesbian. The stories more often deal with class-based taunting; the victims “don’t fit in” because they don’t have the right clothes or hair or live in wrong neighborhood. The anthology also lets us know that the bullied can be filled with a desire for revenge (Kristen Miller’s “Nemesis”), or how sometimes the bully is being forced into violence by peers (Jaime Adoff’s excellent “The Truest Story There Is”). Most of the stories are first person narratives from the point of view of the bullied; in “Like Kicking A Fence,” however, Kate Ellison effectively and disturbingly takes us inside the mind of an aggressor, exposing the inner torments and uncertainties that lead a child to an horrible act of violence.
In all the stories families are for the most part distant, missing, broken or clueless as to what is happening to their children. Even the kids with apparently “good parents” in Cornered invariably feel isolated and alone. Adults often seem complicit to the taunting and harassment going on in the lives of these young people, and school administrators are no help at all. “How Auto-Tune Saved My Life” by Brendan Halpin exposes a teacher who bullies his students.
Not all of the stories fit the anthology’s theme of bullying or defiance. In those stories where kids do fight back, they often use such 21st century tools as social networking or cell phone cameras to get back at their tormentors. A few, like “We Should Get Jerseys ‘Cause We Make a Good Team” by Lish McBride, also feature elements from the genres of Speculative Fiction or Fantasy. Overall, Cornered: 15 Stories of Bullying and Defiance gives readers an intensely personal and unsettling look at the problem, and will hopefully move them to do more than just say, “It Gets Better,” and join in the battle against it.
Cornered: 14 Stories of Bullying and Defiance
Edited by Rhoda Belleza
Running Press Teens
Paperback, 9780762444281, 384 pp.