What is this about?: Bullying and the effects on two families – the family of the girl who was bullied, and the bully’s family. It’s a nuanced tale that will force you to think long and hard about yours and other kids (if you have them) or yourself when you were in school.
What else is this about?: Parenthood is bloody hard. I don’t know how parents do it because it is the most intimidating thing in the world. You always have to be on, be everything to your kids … because if you’re not? If you’re not paying attention, anything can happen. Like this book shows.
Blurb: Can bad children happen to good mothers? A totally absorbing novel, for readers of Liane Moriarty, Lionel Shriver and Christos Tsiolkas.
Blogger Lizzy’s life is buzzing, happy, normal. Two gorgeous children, a handsome husband, destiny under control. For her real-life alter-ego Beth, things are unravelling. Tensions are simmering with her husband, mother-in-law and even her own mother. Her teenage daughters, once the objects of her existence, have moved beyond her grasp and one of them has shown signs of, well, thoughtlessness …
Then a classmate of one daughter is callously bullied and the finger of blame is pointed at Beth’s clever, beautiful child. Shattered, shamed and frightened, two families must negotiate worlds of cruelty they are totally ill-equipped for.
This is a novel that grapples with modern-day spectres of selfies, selfishness and cyberbullying. It plays with our fears of parenting, social media and Queen Bees, and it asks the question: just how well do you know your child?
You’ve probably seen this way too many times: a child driven to kill themselves or hurt themselves because they’re being bullied. Because no-one will listen and there’s nothing left for them to do. What Wendy James has taken that ending, and given it a story – building it around the parents, siblings and friends of the bully and the bullied. Her story shows how insidious a bully can be, while satisfying readers out for a thriller in the most unexpected way.
Normal, normal, normal
Beth is a stay-at-home mum and mommy-blogger, keeping busy and bringing up her kids in the US, as she has for the past 10 years. They’re a family that follows the Dad, Dan, around to wherever his job takes him. When the book opens, they’ve just received news that they’re moving back to Australia, to Newcastle in fact. Beth is torn – she wants to be back in Australia, but in Sydney and not Newcastle where her critical mother and mother-in-law are too close to her for her comfort. She characterises Dan as a mama’s boy in essence, deferring to his mother when she is close by and that is a Dan Beth is not looking forward to.
Beth’s solace or outlet is her blog. There’s a sense she has no friends, as life is too busy otherwise, so that’s her outlet. Her readers are mothers themselves, expats that can commiserate and empathise with her because she doesn’t get that at home, and not from her husband.
Charlie and Lucy
They’re Beth and Dan’s daughters, and if ever there was a golden girl, it’s Charlie. No, sorry Charlotte as she wants to be known now that they’ve moved to Newcastle. Which she hates. Charlotte is a Queen Bee, that girl who’s the centre of attention, of the gang of popular girls in school that everyone wants to be friends with, and everyone is afraid of. She takes up all the space in the novel, and that’s the sense you’d get of her if you’d met someone like her in real life – she takes up all the space in a room so that there’s no one else left to see.
So, you can see where this going right?
Charlie is a bully, the kind that points and laughs at the fat girl who isn’t as fast as she is. The kind that thinks up of initiation rites in order to humiliate the girls who want in to their special club. And when that comes out about Charlie, when a girl Sophie tries to commit suicide, Beth and Dan are slammed in the face with the reality of their kid.
What happens when bad kids happen to good parents?
The parents question everything. The agony that Beth and Dan go through is palpable, wondering where they could have gone wrong, but in Beth’s case also having an epic case of blindness when it comes to her kids, which is clear from the very first page. Which to be honest, is understandable and frustrating – and I think that’s more evidence that James is a superb writer. Beth wants her life to be trouble free, to be able to go back to work and have her kids go to school, her husband be happy and everything to be okay. Charlie can’t be THAT kid, the one that everyone whispers about. Dan does think someone thing is wrong, but when he pushes, Beth pushes back and he lets her convince him she’s fine.
Contrast this with Andi, Sophie’s mother, who is trying to understand how she didn’t realise how broken her kid was. Andi isn’t perfect, though she clearly wishes Sophie was moreso. Sophie is a musical genius, the kind that can create magic with her music, but will not be pretty, not be thin and not be perfect, not like the new baby Andi has just had or the popular girls in her class. And she lets Sophie know it, heaping on to her insecurities and despite realising it, it’s too Late. She’s hurt her daughter, and she was cruel.
And this is why motherhood is damn scary, so I bow down to all you mums and dads out there.
Like others I’ve read, the best stories have the quietest OHMYGOD moments, the ones that sneak up on you and leave you astonished with their power, but in truth it’s just one part of a riveting and thought-provoking read. Wendy James has created something reminiscent of My Sister Rosa, but this sort of evil – bullying — is painful reading for how real it is, and how easy it is to imagine a family going through this out there in the world.