With the topic of bullying making headlines around the nation, the release of the anthology Dear Bully (HarperTeen, Aug.) which features 70 YA authors discussing their personal experiences with bullying, could not be more timely. Last week during BEA, Ellen Hopkins, who wrote the book’s foreword, moderated a panel on the topic, with Maryrose Wood (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series), Lisa McMann (The Wake trilogy), and Megan Kelley Hall (Daughters of Misery). Wood and McMann each contributed a piece to the collection, which Hall edited with Need author Carrie Jones; Hall and Jones contributed as well.
Hopkins introduced the discussion with some sobering figures (over 75% of U.S. students are subjected to abuse by bullies; every half hour, a kid commits suicide as a result of bullying), before asking Hall about her initial inspiration for the anthology.
Hall referenced the tragic “bully-cide” of teenager Phoebe Prince in 2010, and told of her determination to turn her anger over Prince’s torment “into something positive instead of negative.” She added, “YA authors have a voice; these kids do not.”
From the first time Hall contacted her to contribute a story, McMann said she was enthusiastic: “I didn’t think twice.” Wood, however, had reservations, which she conveyed honestly to the audience. “I thought, ‘What an incredible project’... but I hide behind the veil of fiction,” she said.
But after some gentle urging from Hall and some emotional back-and-forth email correspondence, Wood agreed to participate. She went on to explain how cathartic it was to confront painful memories. The other authors agreed how the experience of addressing their own bullying as children heightened their awareness of how such abuse can resonate throughout a child’s life.
Ellen described her own suffering when young, teased about her weight (“that kind of experience sticks with you”), while also explaining how her own children have been bullied at school.
McMann shared how when she was a child, a peer at her church relentlessly picked on her. The bullying culminated in a humiliating moment, in which McMann recalled thinking: “My life is over.” For the anthology, McMann chose to tell the story of a teenaged friend whose torment at school leads him to confide in an online artificial intelligence robot.
Hall mentioned that she was bullied as a child because she was perceived as different due to having cancer, but was also targeted in college. She then described how when she discusses her characters with a group of teens, she often says: “I hope you never meet girls as mean as the ones in this book.” Without fail, her audience tells her that they have already met girls like that.
Hall also brought up the subject of cyber bullying, emphasizing that between texting and the Internet, there is no escape for today’s teens. Hall intended Dear Bully “to provide a safe haven” for victims who might be pursued even while they are in their homes.
Another topic of discussion: how often bullying begins with parents. “A lot of kids learn violence at home,” Hopkins said, pointing to how parents might inadvertently teach their kids to be bullies. Wood movingly described how her troubled home life sent a signal to her peers that something was wrong and, unfortunately, that led to her being bullied at school.
The authors concluded by urging parents, teachers, and other adults to teach children about the devastating consequences of bullying ,and encouraging bullied kids to reach out, agreeing that it doesn’t have to be a rite of passage. As Wood phrased it, “Can you imagine a generation raised knowing how to yield power ethically?”
A Dear Bully Facebook page offers additional opportunities for readers to connect both with the authors in the anthology as well as other bullied teens, and a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the organization Stomp Out Bullying.
Other contributors to the anthology include Lauren Oliver, Aprilynne Pike, Lauren Kate, Heather Brewer, Mo Willems, R.L. Stine, and Jon Scieszka.