Thursday, December 9, 2010

Analysis of Some Girls Are

A semester or so ago, for a Child Development class I was taking, I had to write an analysis of a book that dealt with an issue we'd covered in class. I chose the issue of bullying and analyzed Courtney Summers' second novel, Some Girls Are, tying the bullying in the book into our class curriculum and my goals as a future teacher. I'm reposting my analysis here in honor of Courtney Summers' third novel (Fall For Anything) which is incredibly amazing and comes out December 21st -- be on the lookout for my review of that. 
This post includes spoilers for Some Girls Are.

Some Girls Are, by Courtney Summers, is a young adult novel that tells the story of what happens to an extremely popular high school girl when she gets "froze out" by her friends, shunned by people she used to rely on, and bullied physically, emotionally, and online. It begins when her best friend's boyfriend attempts to rape her at a party. When Regina (the protagonist) tells one of her other friends about what happened, trying to get advice as to how to proceed, the friend instead sees an opportunity to climb the social ladder and turns the attempted rape into a rumor where Regina tried to sleep with her best friend's boyfriend. The aftermath of this attempted rape and ensuing rumor is a spiral of bullying that spins horrifically out of control, with Regina powerless to stop it. Her former friends paint curse words on her locker, start a Facebook hate group aimed at her, cover the contents of her locker in raw, rotting meat and, in one particularly awful scene, lock her in a supply closet with the guy who tried to rape her.

This book, through fiction, explores "mean girl" bullying in an honest and, frankly, terrifying light, showing the dark side of high school popularity and the seeming helplessness of situations. As a former popular girl and one who inflicted a similar torture on her peers in the past, Regina feels not only weak and helpless to stop her situation, but also immensely guilty for what she's done to others in the past. The book explores both of these feelings while staying focused on the bullying that is happening in the story.

According to our text, bullying "occurs repeatedly over time in an unbalanced relationship of power or strength." (Berns, pg. 304) The text goes on to say that bullying can take many forms -- intimidation, physical violence, social inclusion, and cyber-bullying. The book Some Girls Are offers examples of each of these types of bullying, and more, as Regina's life unravels. The bullies in this case exhibit many of the bully characteristics listed in our book (pg. 304), including a positive self-concept, little (or no) empathy, a need to dominate and feel superior, and being generally defiant and aggressive. However, since the victim in this case has also been a bully she also exhibits many of the characteristics of bullies. The few things that really separate her from the peers who gang up on her are her anxiety and unhappiness, paired with a negative self-concept. While her best-friend-turned-tormentor, Anna, seems to feed off the fact that so many people hate her, it makes Regina physically sick to the point that she cannot eat. In as much as this book is a textbook example of bullying in many aspects, the fact that the protagonist was also a bully adds another dimension to the book and allows the reader to see not only the victim's point-of-view, but also a reformed bully's point-of-view.

In my opinion, this is a great novel to read on the subject of bullying. It explores the topic from many different angles, from the bullying Regina faces to the bullying she has inflicted on others in the past and the ways they've reacted to it, as well as her final redemption. As a writer, book reviewer, and avid reader, I've read quite a few books (both fiction and non-fiction) that dealt in some way with the issue of bullying. This is undoubtedly the most intense book I've read on the subject, and also the one that had the biggest effect on me. With nonfiction books I feel that there's only a certain amount of emotional empathy that can be attained, despite the fact that they are extremely educational on the subject of bullying, however with a novel like this one it's not only informative on the subject, but also has a strong emotional connection. This book was impossible to put down and during certain scenes I found myself physically anxious and sick over the main character's plight -- an effect that is very rarely achieved with more academic books. For this reason I think that anyone who wants to study the issue of bullying should have Some Girls Are on his or her reading list.

Though this book is not at all appropriate for younger audiences, it has affected how I will approach bullying in my own career as a teacher by deepening my understanding of the dynamics. There's a particularly telling scene during which Regina is at the community park and sees two mothers with their young daughters. The little girls are obviously on a play date and two of them she says,
They pick separate spaces of grass and focus on the dolls they've brought with them while their moms talk. I hope they stay away from each other, because odds are good one of them has the making of a total bitch and the other will become that bitch's bitch.
Because that's how it works. Mostly. (Summers, pg. 168)
One of the essential parts of Regina's story and of the bullying that is inflicted on her is her insecurities and the fact that her self-image is tied in so closely to what her best friend Anna says, thinks, and does. Though I would agree that this sort of relationship doesn't often lead to the sort of horribly bullying that takes place in Some Girls Are, I do think that oftentimes girls' self-concept gets tied in with their best friend's, and this is usually not a good thing, as this book clearly shows. As a teacher, especially in the young grades, I think it is important to help each child cultivate their own interests and self-concept apart from a peer group or best friend. I believe that confidence is tied in closely with bullying, especially bullying that takes place as part of a toxic friendship (as the bullying in this book did) and, though it may be naive, I think that teachers who take an honest interest in the wellbeing and development of their can influence their future self-image positively and help to prevent the sort of toxic friendships that can lead to bullying.

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