We’ve all heard the adage, “Sticks and stone may break my bone but words will never harm me.” No saying has been a bigger lie than this one. Every kid who’s suffered a bully knows just how badly words hurt. They are flung out at us and burrow deep into our hearts like poisoned thorns. They permeate our very being until we believe them. Fatso, whale tale, faggot, stupid…these are just a few arrows that destroy lives. Kids today have it even worse than those of us who grew up pre-social media. Now, bullying takes on a whole, monstrous life of its own and for all the world to see. Suicide is one of the main causes of death in young adults. More than 4,000 per year die by their own hand. One study found that more than half of all teens who killed themselves were victims of bullying. Whether these children take their own lives, lash out at their tormentors or both, words can definitely do harm.
There are many young adult authors who have tackled this sensitive subject from every point of view. These books help readers to work through feelings of rage, loneliness, and pain. They also point out the devastating effects of a mere rumor. The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu is one such book.
Alice is an average, popular high school girl, right up until IT happened. Everyone who was anyone was at the party and everyone heard all about it the next day and suddenly Alice is a slut. She slept with two boys, one right after the other. Day after day, the stories circulate and, like any good fishing tale, they get bigger and wilder as they go. A stall in the girls bathroom is dedicated to her shame. The four who “know” what happened tell the story but end up revealing as much about themselves and their motivations as they do about Alice. It all comes to a head the day that one of the boys she slept with is killed in a car crash and a tornado of innuendo is unleashed. But what is the truth? Does it really matter to anyone? What about Alice? Who is she, really? Slut? Murderer? Friend? Popular girl? If you really want to know, go ask her.
A short list of other books that deal with this issue are:
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (should be required reading for all teenagers)
Inexcusable by Chris Crutcher (should also be required reading, in conjunction with Speak)
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Bystander by James Preller
Shattering Glass by Gail Giles
What Happened to Lani Garver and The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci
Hate List by Jennifer Brown
Blubber by Judy Blume
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier