Author: Mark Shulman
Publication Date: 9/14/10
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Blurb(GR): Tod Munn is a bully. He's tough, but times are even tougher. The wimps have stopped coughing up their lunch money. The administration is cracking down. Then to make things worse, Tod and his friends get busted doing something bad. Something really bad. Lucky Tod must spend his daily detention in a hot, empty room with Mrs. Woodrow, a no-nonsense guidance counselor. He doesn't know why he's there, but she does. Tod's punishment: to scrawl his story in a beat-up notebook. He can be painfully funny and he can be brutally honest. But can Mrs. Woodrow help Tod stop playing the bad guy before he actually turns into one . . . for real? Read Tod's notebook for yourself.
Well, if you’re looking to get deep into the mind of a bully, this ain’t it. (Go check out Courtney Summers instead.) That’s because Tod Munn isn’t really a bully. Or if he is, he’s a rather benevolent one. He’s also on the honor roll, has perfect attendance, and is a pretty talented seamstress (seamster?). He’s well-read, a fantastic speller, and doesn’t use drugs or drink or even swear.
And okay, yes, this book is written as a series of journal entries from Tod to his guidance counselor so maybe he's heavily editing/putting a good spin on his own behavior. But I just never got that impression. Even when Tod begins writing in his own private notebook, the journal entries don’t become any more explicit. I never felt like he was lying to me…and I love narrators that lie to me.
However, for what this is – essentially the story of a good kid, forced to deal with poverty, absent parents, and teachers who’ve labeled him the bad kid – it’s an enjoyable read. It’s very rewarding to see Tod discover writing as both a release and a way to examine his own life and try to make it better.
I grew up in similar circumstances as this main character. I can still remember clearly all the mortification that I felt at being poor, using free lunch tickets, having no clothes to wear, no food at home, no parents. I remember shame, selfish desperation, and learned resourcefulness. Unfortunately, this book did not make me recall any of those feelings. In one way I am thankful for that, because I don’t enjoy reliving those memories. But this book would have earned more of my respect if it had challenged me.
Everything here feels toned down and oversimplified. Tod’s home life seems hard, but then much of it is explained
away. His bullying, rather tame to begin with, is brushed aside with “mitigating” factors. In fact, Tod isn’t even the real bully…he’s the victim! Of course. The ending is just ridiculous. Tod takes almost no responsibility for anything that he’s done, but when the real bully is finally revealed, no consideration is given to his/her mitigating circumstances. He/she is just plain mean. So yes…let’s all take a walk in Tod’s shoes and understand just where he’s coming from…but everyone else? Nah.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Queen – Under Pressure
This song makes me feel all the emotion about poverty, hunger, and compassion that I think this book is lacking. Put it on after finishing this book if you feel the same way! Or, you could just play it right now…because Queen is one of the greatest bands of all time. You’re welcome.