Sometimes People Are Mean: The Truth About Truman School by Dori Hillestad Butler

Middle Schooler and aspiring journalist, Zebby, is sick and tired of her teacher squashing her ideas for the school newspaper.  Zebby wants to write hard-hitting articles about things that really matter, but Mrs. Jonstone would rather include stories about how great Truman School is.

Frustrated, Zebby and her computer guru friend Amr, come up with an idea to start their own online newspaper; they name the website  Site rules?  Everyone and anyone can post and no one gets censored. At first no one is interested in Zebby’s articles, like the one on the new math curriculum, so she and Amr try to figure out ways to get more visitors to the sight.  They post some “Who’s the worst teacher at Truman?” polls and soon the site is getting tons of hits.

Quickly though, Zebby and Amr begin to question their free speech policy as someone anonymously posts an embarrassing picture  of another girl at school, Libby.  Zebby and Amr, ignore it hiding behind their desire to provide a place for people to tell the truth, but things quickly get out of hand as the mysterious writer continues to post hurtful comments about Lilly.  Pretty soon, things spiral out of control before Zebby and Amr’s eyes and they have no idea what to do as something really scary happens.

I picked up The Truth About Truman School at our school Book Fair earlier this month, as the cover looked cute and lighthearted.  Lets just say the cover is slightly misleading; it makes you think this is going to be a middle school “chicklit” novel.  It’s not.  This book deals with some pretty serious stuff; cyberbullying. (And uses some pretty hurtful (and common to teens) language to be as real as possible)

The Truth About Truman School is pretty much a long PSA against cyberbulling.  Which is both good and annoying at the same time.  As a middle school educator, I think that Butler addresses an incredibly relevant topic; I know we’ve had trouble with it at my school before.  All people (not just teens) need to be aware of what it is and how the anonymity of the internet can be a breeding ground for cruelty.  That said, I also feel like Butler’s agenda is a little too transparent.  There were times where I thought, “okay this is reading straight out of one of those anti cyberbullying video created by the county that they force the kids to watch first period”.  Butler was just a little bit heavy-handed with the “cyberbullying is bad” theme.  But, that’s coming from an adult who works within the education system, so I do wonder if teens will have the same perspective; will they even pick up on this and feel the same way?  I don’t know. (But I’d be interested to hear some teens thoughts!)

Either way, this is a good story for people to read and discuss their thoughts because guess what?  People can be mean! Also, I was totally surprised at the end; definitely not who I thought it was (no spoilers here!) A very quick read  (I finished it in less than two days) as each character gets a chance to tell their side of things (Point of view switches always make the story read quicker to me.).

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