I read this book because we were looking for more books that cover the darker side of the Internet and we had approximately 150 of these in our book hire but they were listed as senior fiction (accessible to years 10 – 12). My goal was to ascertain whether or not this book should remain as senior fiction, or whether we could allow our years 7-9 to read it. Although I found the book to be valuable, it became clear to me very quickly that it was not appropriate for our general fiction collection.
Avalon moves with her family from a small town in Western Australia to its capital, Perth. Both her parents are teachers and her mother is offered a Head of Department role in a Perth school, forcing the family to relocate. Although initially against the move, Avalon soon decides that living in the city might be advantageous for her social life and for her opportunities after school. She begins year 10 in her new school with high expectations. It is clear from the very beginning that Avalon will have a tough time assimilating into life at her new school. She is immediately marked as “not worthy” by the most popular girl at school and endures an onslaught of hostility towards her in a verbal way. Although this verbal bullying clearly traumatises Avalon, it is not until the cyber bullying begins that she begins to really struggle. Her belief that she has found a safe place in amongst the outcasts of the school is challenged and her mental health clearly deteriorates as the bullying increases. Towards the end of the novel, Avalon is forced to confront her bullies, both verbal and cyber, due to their acts of bullying affecting a close friend of hers.
This book, although slow for me to get in to, soon had me turning the pages quickly to discover the identity of the cyber bully. My natural instincts disagreed with Avalon’s assumption and I had to know if she or I was right (you’ll need to read it yourself to discover the answer).
In terms of the way in which the book was written, I found it quite difficult to decipher some of the “text” representing the cyber world. The shortened text-language often used in messages seemed to have been taken to a level that I myself had never actually used. I am still unsure whether teenagers use this language when messaging to the extent in which it was used in the book, and therefore find myself wondering if my students would actually be able to decipher its meaning any quicker than I did.
I guess the most interesting part of this story for me was the way in which Avalon chose to deal with the cyber bullying. As the daughter of two teachers and a seemingly mentally tough girl, I expected her resilience to be stronger, or at least for her to talk with her parents about it. When she states that she is unable to discuss these things with her parents because they are teachers and that even though the think they do they don’t really understand the impact that cyber bullying has on young people. This hit me very hard. I have always hoped that our programs in schools had begun to help students to feel safe in approaching someone to help them through these obstacles, but reading this book made me think that we may not be achieving our goal.
This book changed from being something I found quite tedious, to something shocking and uncomfortable but eye opening. Although I am unable to move this book from senior fiction to our general fiction, it will definitely be something I recommend to students that are struggling with cyber bullying, or simply want to understand it more.