Doug Wilhelm is a local YA author who I used to see in my library all the time. This book has gotten a lot of press because it deals with a hot teen topic: bullying. I haven’t read much of the rest of the books about bullying, so I don’t know how this one compares, but I will say that it was a lively book with some nerdy but redeeming bullying victims and some atrocious but redeeming bullies. The kids who are being tormented group together and find a good solution to dealing with bullies and we learn, as we often do, that a lot of bullies are just people who want to be respected, or understood, or have terrible home lives that they are grappling with. Wilhelm doesn’t serve it all on a platter, some interpretation is left to the reader. This story also has a technological angle where the kids use the local LAN server to chat about tactics and other things. The chat sessions are reprinted verbatim which I guess lends some sort of technorealism to the story, but the transcripts ring false to me -- too many full sentences, too little chatspeak, but that’s a minor quibble. The story doesn’t read like an After-School Special, no one is perfect and even the good guys have their flaws and Achilles heels. The descriptions of the kids in school and their adult teachers and parents ring true without, again, being moralistic about responsibility or behavior. One kid smokes. One adult is a jerk. Some teachers aren’t helpful, you know just like real life.
It took me a long time to get ready to write a review of this book, mostly because it stayed with me in all sorts of ways, and also because I’m reading a follow-up to it (And Their Children After Them) which has been thought-provoking. In short, in 1936 WPA photographer Walker Evans and NY writer James Agee went to the South to try to find some sharecropper/tenant famers to write about and photograph. They wound up spending the Summer with three separate families. Walker’s photographs are in the book as the first 30 or so pages. And Agee, well Agee sort of goes off, all throughout the book in an almost stream of consciousness style describing both the nature of these people’s lives and his many thoughts about the nature of poverty and oppression in America.
Agee is a big of a fop and anyone who is familiar with the East Village New York style of anthropology of the non-hip will recognize some of this. He’s also a really great writeer and so you actually hang on while he describes in detail the contents of one of the clothing chests at the homes of one off the fmailies. These people have nothing, a point illuminated by Evans' photos and driven home by Agee’s descriptions of their day-to-day lives as cotton farmers on land owned by someone else for which they must pay a heavy rent. It’s appalling to read when Agee gets to specifics, which is not often. Sometimes he is just driving down the road in the hot Alabama Sumemr talking abot how he needs to get laid. He talks a lot about need and hunger and these sorts of ideas, ascribing to the families emotions that are likely too esoteric for them in their quest for survival. It’s a little tough to read, both because of the abject misery these people live in, but also Agee’s bizarre abstraction from it as if he could live among them and not change them, or be changed. There’s a level of naivete that he has as a writer on assigment that makes the story even more poignant than it might otherwise be.
Reading these out of order pretty much ensures that certain surprises will not be too surprising and, I hope, keeps me from getting too droolingly attached to the characters and unfolding plotlines. I like Michael Connelly’s books, but most of them are just a bit too pat for me. The main character, Harry Bosch, is a retired cop who likes solving cold case crimes. This leads to a lot of stonewalling by actual law enforcement and lawyers and the feds when he is digging for information with no actual badge behind his requests. He’s also got a complicated situation with his ex-wife and goes to some extralegal lengths to keep tabs on her. Sometimes I have a hard time telling if a characters is supposed to be unlikable or if I just don’t like them. I don’t like this character much though the tight plots and interesting story lines keep Connelly’s books interesting enough to keep one handy.