Kids are Mean: Bystander by James Preller

As one who was once in middle school, you know it’s there.

As one who is a middle school educator, you know it’s there.


Yea, that is what Bystander by James Preller is all about. Well, not just about bullying, but also about learning how to be strong in the face of bullying.

Seventh grader, Eric is new in Bellport, Long Island.  Eric’s mother just moved him and his little brother from Ohio back to her hometown.
Eric has just met someone who actually wants to be his friend; Griffin.  Griffin is a little strange, but he seems popular, cool and confident.

Soon, Eric starts to notice that all is not well with Griffin.  He encourages Eric to lie to his mother and he always seems to be at the center of bad situations.  The more time Eric spends with Griffin and his friends, the more Eric starts see; Griffin lies, he’s a bully and he’s a thief.

As Eric starts to realize that Griffin isn’t who he wants to be associated with and attempts to break away from the relationship, things take a turn for the worse.  Being on Griffin’s bad side isn’t where Eric wants to be. And as the tagline asks, is Eric just “a bystander? Or the bully’s next target?”.

Things I liked about this novel:

So, I thought this book was a page turner.  I would get to the end of each chapter and think, “Okay, I can read one more!”  or “I need to get back to that book to see what happens next”.  You’re pushing forward through the book just knowing that something is about to happen just right around the corner.  This is totally what one feels like as a victim of bullying, you know its coming, you almost expect it with every turn.  I don’t know if Preller intended this effect on the reader, but it’s there.

Griffin’s character isn’t just some one-sided “mean kid” character.  Often in movies or books the mean kid is just mean, for no reason whatsoever, but Preller provides a little more insight.   As the book progresses, the reader gets a little glimpse into Griffin’s home life and it kind of all falls together; you suddenly understand his motives. I think my friend, Becky (shot out!) always said, “hurt people hurt people”.  I’m sure she got that from someone famous, and it makes so much sense with Griffin’s character.

Things I wasn’t so fond of (oh, and a bit of a spoiler alert):

Mainly, the conclusion.  There is no meaningful solution to the problem.  Griffin, in some strange way, respects Eric, so they kind of silently agree to live and let live and go their separate ways.  The problem I have with this, is that it’s not that easy for a bullying victim to just live life because the bullies do not give up that easily.  Not in my opinion, and not from what I’ve seen working with middle schoolers.   There usually has to be some sort of confrontation, whether with an adult or without.  The ending to me, wasn’t very realistic.

All in all, I enjoyed Bystander and I think it’s a great way to opening up a conversation with your friends, students, or children about bullying.

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