Higgins, M.G. (2014). I’m Just Me. Costa Mesa, CA: Saddleback Educational Publishing. ISBN 9781622507214
Nasreen is a muslim who wears the traditional hijab head covering and endures verbal abuse and horrible bullying each day at the almost all white Arondale High. Mia is an African-American teen from the inner-city who ends up transferring to Arondale and befriends Nasreen. The friendship increases the amount of bullying the two must endure and efforts to tell adults are met with threats of increased efforts from the bullies. The two friends decide to take matters into their own hands and formulate a plan to fight back against their tormentors.
I’m Just Me is a raw and emotional account of what it is like to be different and to be bullied because of that fact. The novel’s main strength is that it does a fantastic job of evoking a wide range of emotions. The reader feels anger, sadness, empathy, frustration, disgust, joy, the feeling of a new crush, and hope all within the two hundred one pages. This novel also does a good job of giving a very honest account of what it is like to be bullied and of putting the reader in the situation. The story is told from the viewpoints of the two protagonists, both of whom are being bullied. The situations they find themselves in and their reactions to those situations are completely believable and will make the reader identify more with the book as he or she is almost certain to have witnessed similar situations before at school. Both of the protagonists are well-developed female characters and Higgins does a good job of revealing their many dimensions to the reader through her prose. As good a job as this novel does at evoking emotions and providing strong characters with which readers can identify, it has many weaknesses in other areas. For starters, the build up takes a large portion of the book and then the climax and ending seem rushed, a little forced, and underdeveloped. Also, throughout the book, the adults are unaware of the situation and in one instance where Mia tells the principal what is going on, he is very flippant about the whole thing, saying that the accused bully is “a model student. He’s very popular” (p. 125) as a means of explaining why he would never do such a thing. Sadly, this behavior probably does exist from some teachers and administrators, but it felt as if the lack of recognition and action from adults in the novel was a little over exaggerated. This novel also falls short in providing sound coping mechanisms. The suggestions given by the school counselor for dealing with it are to be assertive and let him or the principal know if anything else happens. While these are both good pieces of advice, Higgins missed a real opportunity to provide a rich repertoire of coping mechanisms. Also, there are no references at the end of the book for information on bullying, suggested readings or websites, or hotlines where teens can turn for help with bullying. Finally, there is one aspect that can be seen as a strength or a weakness, depending on how it is viewed. The book is listed as a third grade reading level, but focuses on high school characters and deals with topics that are advanced well beyond the elementary years. This can be a weakness in that it is not challenging for readers of the intended age group. It can also be a strength in that it is good for young adult/teen readers who read below grade level.
While this book is certainly not developmentally appropriate in regards to the reading level, the subject matter is appropriate for readers in grades 9-12. The novel can help teens who are being bullied identify with characters who are experiencing the same thing and learn one or two surface level coping mechanisms. There is some mild language in the book, but it is aimed at high school age young adults, and the language actually strengthens the emotions felt by the characters, and in turn, the reader.
This book will appeal to young adults first because it a quick, easy read. It will also appeal to those who are or have been bullied or who have a friend who is or has been bullied. It may be off-putting to those young adults who are themselves bullies, but if they stick it out to the end, it could result in changes in their behavior.
Higgins has crafted a good read that does address a topic that is very relevant to today and probably will remain relevant in the future as well. This novel has won a few awards, albeit none of them major name awards, but a lack of offered solutions and a mediocre ending will keep it from being around for long.
The Compliments Activity
In order to help students learn how to look for good in people and celebrate differences, have students make thoughtful positive comments about their classmates.
First, each student can decorate a piece of paper with their name at the top and leave their paper on their desk. Then, students can move around the room, writing a compliment on each classmate’s paper. At the end of the activity, each student will have a page full of compliments about them.
Prior to completing this activity, you could discuss with the students examples of compliments that are thoughtful and meaningful versus “you are pretty”, “you have nice hair”. You could also add a targeted language arts element to this activity by requiring students to write in complete sentences rather than just fragments.
Beyond Bullies Website
Sandhu, R. (n.d.). Helping Teens, Youth and Families Facing Bullying and Cyberbullying. Retrieved June 29, 2015, from http://beyondbullies.org/
This website offer several great resources for teens on bullying. There is information about what to do if you are being bullied, a place to talk with a teen leader who has experienced bullying, and information on several anti-bullying programs.
Book about Bullying
Meyer, S., Meyer, C., Sperber, E., & Alexander, H. (2013). Bullying Under Attack: True Stories Written by Teen Victims, Bullies & Bystanders. Deerfield Beach, FL: HCI Teens. ISBN 9780757317606
This book has no professional reviews, but has a large number of endorsements from authors, teens, parents, teachers, and librarians. Even though it is not critically acclaimed, it contains true stories from the teens who lived through bullying experiences and as such, could be an invaluable tool in providing help to a young adult who is in a bullying situation.
Randall, J. (2014, June 1). [Review of the book I’m Just Me]. Voice of Youth Advocates. Available online from VOYA: http://www.voyamagazine.com/
Cover Picture Citation
Saddleback Educational Publishing. (2014). Cover of I’m Just Me. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Im-Just-Me-Gravel-Road/dp/0606352201/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1435779424