CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 19. . . .January 21, 2011
The Mystery of the Cyber Bully. (Marty Chan Mystery Series, 4).
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2010.
215 pp., pbk., $10.95.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Jane Bridle.
…I hated being the butt of jokes, because it reminded me of how hard it was to fit in. I fired back, " Nathan, everyone knows the only reason why you have a black belt is because your father owns the dojo."
The kids let out an eager gasp. He ground his foot into the pavement, grinding a few pebbles under his sneakers. "No one insults my father's dojo. Apologize now."
A hush fell over everyone. Their waiting stares reminded me of basketball fans watching a free throw. The ball bounced off the rim and hit the backboard then circled the rim. Everyone waited for the ball to fall through the hoop and they waited for Nathan's reaction. He headed toward me. I backpedalled until my back slammed against the wall. I pushed my back against the bricks, hoping the nuns who once used the school as their convent had built a secret entrance in the wall, but all I felt was the hard surface and some wads of gum. I was pretty sure I was going to become one of those crushed wads.
The Mystery of the Cyber Bully, the fourth novel in the "Marty Chan Mystery Series," tackles the social issue of cyber bullying. Marty is now in Grade 6 and on the cusp of puberty. As the son of the only Chinese family in the small town of Bouvier, AB, Marty knows what it's like to be an outsider.
The novel begins with Remi and Marty "walking the beat" in Marty's father's grocery store. After falsely accusing an adult of shoplifting, the boys chase and tackle their teenage suspect and intimidate her into emptying her pockets. They threaten to "Call her parents. Call the cops. Maybe even call the Bouvier Herald." This is not the good-humoured, kindhearted Marty from the previous novels. Have his prepubescent hormones turned him into an aggressive, meanspirited, dare I say it, bully? Shortly after this browbeating, the suspect discloses that she has been the recipient of demeaning emails, and Marty and friends vow to track down the bully.
In their mission to discover the enemy, their trail leads them to the public library. The description of the librarian was disappointing as the author trots out old, shopworn, tired clichés. She is cranky, hawk nosed, with a pencil in her bun and a "Silence is Golden" sign on her counter. This is the negative stereotype librarians have been battling for decades.
All of the adults are portrayed as remote, one dimensional figures. Marty's mother is also described in clichéd terms. Now pregnant, she is depicted eating a pickle with ice cream. Both Marty's mother and father appear remote and disengaged from Marty's life.
Principal Henday is probably the only adult who commands a modicum of respect and to his credit has set a strict no bullying policy at the school. Marty does suggest to the victim that she approach the principal with her concerns, but at no time is an adult approached for help.
The author offers some methods of dealing with a bully. For example, instead of remaining silent bystanders, the friends become allies in protecting and supporting each other. One of the best ways to disarm a bully is to be an outspoken witness and stand up for the victim. At the climax, Marty faces the bully down rather than giving in. In this respect, he provides a strong and confident model.
When the culprit is finally exposed, the resolution was never revealed (There was a brief threat of expulsion earlier in the novel). The various responses for proactive correction could have been provided, but the novel ends abruptly without a discussion of the consequences. An addendum with a list of practical techniques for the prevention and intervention of cyber bullying behaviour, along with resources for children, parents and educators, would have been useful.
While the previous three titles in the series are sure fire winners and have been shortlisted for awards, including the Edmonton Book Prize, this title is not recommended. Cyber bullying is an issue that can have serious consequences for victims, and Chan could have handled it in a more responsible manner.
Jane Bridle is a librarian with Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.
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