Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez
The Absolutist by John Boyne
c.2011, Other Press $16.95 U.S. 320 pages
For some reason, you just can’t seem to let it go. It happened so many years before. You were a child then, really—old enough to know better, but not old enough to resist your impulses. Old enough to act, but not old enough to understand that you’d carry your pain for decades.
Everyone says to forgive yourself. Move on. Let it go. What they don’t know is that, though the years pass, the regret you feel never does…
Tristan Sadler hoped his memories of battle would eventually fade. He hoped that nobody would ever know what he’d seen. And in the book The Absolutist by John Boyne, he hoped they’d never know what he did.
Marian Bancroft lived quite far away from London. It wouldn’t be easy to get there; nonetheless, Tristan Sadler made the journey. He wasn’t sure why he needed to give her the letters but somehow, it seemed important.
Not long before, he’d written to Marian, telling her about the letters, knowing she’d want them. Though she’d answered back that, yes, it would be nice to have some of her brother Will’s last possessions, Tristan wasn’t sure of the reception he’d get from her.
After all, he had survived World War I, and Will had not.
Upon meeting, he thought that Marian was a little addled but, no, she was nervous and after a cup of tea, Tristan believed they might be friends someday. Sometimes, when she scrunched her nose just so, he could see Will in her—they were siblings—and a jolt went through his heart.
Tristan and Will had been through military training together. Just 17 then, Tristan had lied about his age so that he might join the army. He supposed it was what he needed to do, especially since he had nowhere else to go. Especially since his father sent him away for kissing another boy.
And Will, he was handsome. He had a great sense of humor and a deep sense of honor. Throughout their training, Tristan and he became friends.
They became more than friends.
Now, there was Tristan, three years after war’s end, holding a bundle of Will’s letters. And when Marion asked what happened on the day that Will died, Tristan knew suddenly why he’d brought the letters all the way from London.
So he told her…
Let me try to explain how much I loved The Absolutist.
I loved it for it’s grainy black-and-white-movie feel, like an old British film from the ‘40s. I loved that author John Boyle teased out just enough information throughout this book to make me think I’d figured out what had happened to Tristan and Will (I didn’t!). I loved the mixture of horrific brutality and insanely beautiful prose.
And I loved the ending, which made me gasp, gasp and gasp again.
The Absolutist starts out a tad slow, but don’t let that deter you from reading this absolutely stellar book. Start it, stick around and you soon won’t be able to let it go.
The Bully Society by Jessie Klein
c.2012, New York University Press $29.95 / $32.00 Canada 307 pages, includes notes
Your child’s grades are slipping. You noticed it last winter, just after the new year, but you thought it was just a mid-winter slump or something. But now, though, he’s been avoiding activities he used to love, he has little interest in anything but his bedroom and although you once had a good relationship with him, he refuses to talk about things.
You think you know what’s wrong. You were bullied once, too.
Author Jessie Klein did some research on bullying and what she found is stunning. In her new book The Bully Society, she tells the story of bullied kids, school shootings and what we can do about them.
In October 1997, sociology professor Jessie Klein heard about a Mississippi16-year-old who opened fire in a school, explaining that he’d done so because he was angry over mistreatment from peers. Then similar violence happened again. And again.
“I continued to study these cases,” Klein says, eventually finding 182 of them in a 40-year period. What she learned were three main reasons for school shootings: “everyday” violence of bullying, destructive gender pressures and social demands on children at schools.
Our children, she says, are constantly enduring a culture that “places a diminished value” on students who don’t measure up in social status. They have the “wrong” clothes or accessories, live in the “wrong” place or lack money or “social capital.” Klein found that this problem occurs even in schools that require uniforms. She also found that adults are often unaware of what’s happening.
Boys are bullied for not being masculine enough, and any lack of athleticism is reason for beatings, sexual slurs and derogatory name-calling. This is doubly problematic for children who are gay or are perceived as such by peers.
Girls, Klein says, are bullied for similar-but-opposite reasons, a type of bullying she calls “slut-bashing.” Sexual harassment is common, too; so common that girls often don’t realize it’s happening.
So what can be done?
Listen to your child when (s)he says there’s a problem at school. Don’t allow bullying from anyone, including coaches, teachers or other parents. Nurture a mentor-and-model program in your area and help design laws that allow underage children to take bullies to court. Most of all, work with others to embrace “collective courage.”
United, you stand … and make change.
The Bully Society is a hard book to read—not because of the way it’s written, but because of what’s written. Author Jessie Klein shocks repeatedly with stories that’ll make your heart hurt: accounts of kids with nowhere to turn; memories of 40-something women who cringe from 30-year-old pain; tales of beatings and suicide; and jaw-dropping stories of adults who ignore or perpetuate the bullying of children. These are accounts that every parent needs to see and every teacher needs to read.
If you’ve noticed an epidemic of bullying in your community or your school and you don’t know what to do about it, here’s a good start. Before school reconvenes, you’ll want to slip The Bully Society into your reading pile.