After his classmate Morgan Mallen commits suicide, Sam Proctor writes in a journal to examine his role in her death.
Morgan was relentlessly cyberbullied, with alpha girl Athena goading others to do it, including Sam. But Sam did more than just write (among other things) “I’d rather crawl inside an aardvark’s asshole than spend two minutes with you” on Morgan’s webpage. he had started a friendship in real life with her, but one he was too embarrassed, ashamed and scared to take public.
The writing is spare and straightforward, and authentically captures the voice of an adolescent boy, with its earnestness, flashes of humor and occasional whining. Each chapter is short, as Sam only commits to writing for 15 minutes a day, and the subject of the daily entries moves between the past and the present.
Initially, Sam seeks self-exoneration for his actions: others wrote far worse, other called her names in the corridors at school, others dictated the rules of the game. After all, Sam is a “nice guy”, and a follower, “happy going along for the ride.”. But he gradually realizes that he did play a significant role in Morgan’s death, even if he would never think of himself as a bully.
I found the ending a little unsatisfactory. The bad girl gets her social, if not legal, comeuppance, and Sam exposes the hypocrisy of his classmates. But though he is now fully aware of the damage his actions have done, he is let off the hook by an unlikely plot twist.
This book should be widely read by middle schoolers. The subject is topical and though Mr. Preller doesn’t really offer new insights, he does a sound job of showing the animal ugliness and herd mentality of contemporary bullying, along with gently suggesting how it could be counteracted.
(Note: even though his book has now been published, this review is of an ARC)