My YA novel, Seven Days, is about bullying, told from two perspectives. The novel focuses on two girls, Jess and Kez who at first appear very different. Jess is shy and awkward, whilst Kez is confident and popular. When Kez decides to target Jess, seemingly offended by her weaknesses, a nasty bullying campaign unfolds. But in this novel, it soon becomes clear that there is more than one victim. What is driving Kez to target another? And what deep emotional scars is she hiding?
I have been influenced by many YA books that touch upon the subject of bullying. It is such an emotional subject and can often invoke a range of feelings and frustrations in the reader. I like books that are gritty and real, that do not shy away from the core message. These are some of my key reads:
1. Blubber by Judy Blume
I read this as a teen and the book stayed with me for a long time. I remember being fascinated by the fact that the bully was the main narrator and then suddenly the tables were turned and the bully was targeted. For me it was refreshing to see that shift in perspective, showing how quickly power can change. There were some pretty brutal scenes too, including a nasty section where the girls try to strip "the blubber". The book never attempted to preach and was so accessible to kids of my age.
2. Wonder by R J Palacio
This book was so painfully sad in parts. I had read reviews for it and avoided reading it for a bit, worried it would upset me too much. I’m so glad I finally let myself devour it. Auggie longs to be normal, to be accepted by his peers. This book had me crying in parts, as the realisation of his struggles to belong sunk in. What was interesting was reading the different narratives and seeing Auggie’s journey from another set of eyes – almost more painful as Auggie had become so resilient over time. There was so much hope and goodness too.
3. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
While I didn’t love this book, it’s difficult to ignore its influence. The idea of a plane crashing and a small group of boys surviving alone on an island is fascinating. The book does not only explore human nature and group dynamics but it also outlines how quickly one individual can be outcast by another, in this case Piggy. As the boys become more tribal, more frantic – matters escalated, ultimately leading to death of poor Piggy. This novel was truly scary and stayed with me beyond the turn of the last page.
4. Bad Girls by Jaqueline Wilson
I am a huge fan of Jaqueline Wilson. She has the ability to explore gritty, real issues with a beautifully delicate touch. In Bad Girls, bitterly insecure Mandy needs a friend and finds she is the target of the popular girl at school. Her ally comes in the quirky and wonderful Tanya - who opens up her world. A fantastic book for younger readers, this is a read alive with characters from dysfunctional backgrounds or struggling circumstances. It is easy to read and even easier to relate to.
5. Carrie by Stephen King
This is one of my all-time favourites. I could probably go on all day about this book. I had a battered and well-read copy as a teen that I would revisit in my most insecure moments. Carrie was a wonderfully exciting character, a troubled girl who could unleash her pain via telekinetic fury – almost symbolic of the maddening rage that victims of bullying can feel inside themselves. I don’t think I will ever forget a very early chapter, when Carrie’s humiliation is almost too difficult to read. Chilling and compulsive and very difficult to forget.
Seven Days by Eve Ainsworth is out this week (5th February) from Scholastic, for £6.99.