Feiwel & Friends
Published May 11, 2021
Girl bullies, internet bullying, and substance use are themes in this James Preller middle grade standalone companion to Bystander
Mary O’Malley is tired of keeping secrets. Secrets like her older brother, Jonny’s, drug use. Starting seventh grade is tough enough without the upheaval her brother is bringing to their family.
It seems the only person who might understand is Griffen Connolly, whose older sister runs with Jonny in the wrong crowd. Mary thought Griff was too cool, too popular for her. But now he wants to hang out with her, and listen.
When two girls Mary thought were her friends decide to slam another girl online, Mary tries to look the other way. Then the girls turn on Mary, and suddenly, she doesn’t have a safety zone. Her brother is out of control, her family’s energies are all spent on him. There is only one person she can turn to. But can she trust Griff? Or is he one of the bullies?
This book reminded me a little bit of MARY UNDERWATER by Shannon Doleski, which I absolutely loved. In addition to being a book about a girl named Mary, UPSTANDER is about a sensitive, smart girl battling the violence of bullying and trying to find ways to love her brother despite his drug use disorder.
Mary faces a lot of challenging relationships. First, two of her girl friends make it clear they want to exclude a third girl, leaving Mary to decide whether to follow along. Then, a boy Mary spends time with teams up with two other boys to bully neighborhood kids. Again Mary finds herself in the middle, and she has to decide whether or not to speak up.
As Mary’s brother’s addiction becomes increasingly destructive to her family, Mary faces the same challenge about speaking up in her own family. Does she stay silent when her brother and mom fight, or is there a way to intervene and let them know how she feels?
Mary wrestles with these big emotions and complex relationships, all the while seeking to be true to herself and her personal values of kindness and generosity. She doesn’t always make the right choices, but she never stops trying to learn or to find a way through that doesn’t cause harm to someone else.
I loved this heartfelt, powerful story. I haven’t read BYSTANDER, which is a companion to this book and was published first, but I definitely want to read it now. So, I would love to see more of the community around Mary and read more by James Preller.
Content warning for drug addiction and bullying violence.
Recommended for Ages 10 to 14.
Some minor characters are Black.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
An adult talks about marring another adult. A boy moves in with his girlfriend. Mary discovers she has feelings for a boy at school. A girl talks about a boy asking her to send sexy pictures of herself. Later she mentions that she has sent him something, but isn’t specific what it is.
Instances of bullying. A group of boys harass another boy, squirting ketchup packets on him. They bully another boy, threatening to take his basketball. A group of boys beat up another boy.
Mary’s brother is addicted to drugs. He steals items from their home and argues with Mary’s mom. Off-scene, a girl experiences a drug overdose. A boy who was there describes it afterward.
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