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Posts Tagged ‘bullying’

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As a schoolboy, Ben Smith was a victim of relentless and vicious bullying, which affected him so much that he attempted to take his own life twice. Carrying his experiences through to adulthood, he suffered from severe depression and a crushing inability to reveal his true self to others. His saviour was running.

So when Ben wanted to take on a challenge to raise awareness of bullying and also raise money for two anti-bullying charities, it was to running which he turned. The challenge he decided on was to run 401 marathons on 401 consecutive days. Yes, you read that correctly!

Selling his house and all his possessions to fund the project, Ben set out on his odyssey throughout the UK running a marathon every single day. It changed his life, but as news of his challenge grew, it also changed the lives of many others. People would turn out not just to support Ben, but also to run with him – sometimes the whole 26.2 miles, sometimes a portion of it. Several people ran their first ever marathon alongside him.

This books tells the remarkable story of the 401 challenge, and it’s an absorbing and inspirational read. Not so much a running book as a lesson that if you really want to achieve something – and you are prepared to work damned hard at it – you can and will do it. Rather than a day to day retelling, each chapters covers chunks of the time, and as well as Ben’s back story, which is told alongside the story of the marathons, there are contributions from his partner, family, friends and other people who ran with him or were inspired by him. This meant that as a reader we see Ben’s experiences through other people’s eyes, and see just what an effect it had on those around him.

It’s an honest account of the good times, but also the bad times – you simply cannot take on a challenge of that magnitude without it affecting you, and Ben is quite straightforward about the physical, mental and logistical issues which the challenge threw at him and his team. Ultimately though, this is always a story of hope, dedication and a little bit of craziness. Engaging throughout and thoroughly enjoyable whether or not you are a runner.

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Emma O’Donovan is the girl every girl wants to be. She is clever, beautiful and the envy of her friends. Until the night that she goes to a party and her life takes a downhill turn. All of a sudden everyone hates her, she is classed as a whore and there are lurid photos of her all over Facebook. It’s made clear to the reader that what her friends and schoolmates initially consider to be her sleeping consensually with a group of men, was actually a group rape; however this doesn’t stop people taunting her and calling her all sorts of names.

Emma’s life falls apart when the case becomes public knowledge, her family start to split at the seams and people still blame her for what happened, and the book shows the aftermath of the terrible event.

I am in two minds about this book. I think it’s an important subject, and I quite like that O’Neill does not wrap everything up in a neat bow at the end, although I didn’t actually like the ending she chose to write. However, Emma is (I suspect intentionally) in the beginning at least, a deeply unpleasant young woman. She tries to get her friend’s boyfriend to fancy her, she is jealous of any girl who may be approaching being as pretty as Emma herself is and is unnecessarily unkind to people. None of this matters a jot – or at least none of it should matter a jot – of course when she is horrifically violated. What happened was wrong, full stop. The reaction of others was almost as horrific as the violation itself.

The first half of the book lays out Emma’s character and shows events leading up to the night of the party, while the second half deals with the aftermath. I did not like Emma’s mother at all, and felt that she was at least partly to blame for Emma’s obsession with her looks. Her father was not a likeable character too, although I suspect that his treatment of Emma after the rape was for some, all too accurate. I did however like her brother Bryan.

I feel that this is a book that people should read, and it is certainly one I raced through due to the flow of the writing, but can I say that I loved it? No – it’s hard to love a book with this subject. But I would probably recommend it.

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March 6th 2007 starts off like any normal day at Sterling High School, New Hampshire.  All that changes when one of its students, Peter Houghton, walks into the school armed with guns and starts shooting people.  Ten people are killed and a further nineteen are seriously injured.  Peter has been bullied and victimised at school ever since he can remember, and it seems that when it all got too much for him, he snapped.

As the community of Sterling tries to come to terms with the aftermath of the horrific event, Peter’s family question what could have made their son do something like this, and if they missed any warning signs.

I thought this was a wonderful, compelling read.  Jodi Picoult always creates entirely believable characters, and I found myself caring for these people and eager to know how their individual stories would turn out.  Although a large number of key players in the story are introduced into the story very early on, it did not get confusing, and they were all instantly distinctive, with their own stories well told.

The main characters the story focuses on are Peter and his parents; Josie Cormier – former best friend of Peter’s and now the girlfriend of Matt Royston, one of Peter’s main tormentors and also one of the casualties of the shooting; Alex Cormier, Josie’s mother and the Judge likely to be sitting on the case; Patrick Ducharme – the policeman in charge of the investigation, (who apparently also features in an earlier book by the author), and who was my personal favourite character; and Jordan McAfee and his wife Selena – Jordan has the difficulty of being defence attorney at the trial.  Each of them have their own part to play in the tale and the shooting and subsequent trial causes them all to look at their lives in a new light.

The story is told in two parts.  The first part starts with the events of the day of the shooting, and then the narratives goes backward and forward; from years beforehand when Peter was a young child, taking in several stages of his life, up until very soon before the incident; and to various times afterward, which show the wheels being set in motion for Peter’s trial, and how fellow students are coping with the tragedy.  The second part concentrates on the trial itself, with just a few very short flashbacks to the day of the incident.

Clearly this is a very sensitive subject – sadly there will be very few people who would be able to read this book without being able to recall hearing of a similar incident in real life.  Jodi Picoult does a good job of examining what might lead up to such a horrific event, and also manages to create interest in and sympathy for each character, even including Peter himself.

Certainly a very thought provoking story, which made me want to explore the subject further.  It’s quite a thick book – just shy of 600 pages – but none of the story felt superfluous, and my interest was held throughout.  Highly recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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