BullyBully by Penelope Douglas
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Initial thoughts: Not worth the time taken to read. I honestly thought it would be a better read than it actually was – it wasn’t terrible in the beginning, but at the same time, as it went on, it glorifies and romanticizes bullying to no end. I have a lot of words to say about this and I’ll try to be as constructive as I can about what went wrong with this read after I meditate a bit over it.

Full review:

This is a difficult review for me to write, but I’m going to start this reflection with a few thoughts about current trends I see in popular literature. I think it’s fair to say that conflict drives much of what we read and the experiences that we get from that conflict in a work make us value it in a myriad of ways. But one thing that I absolutely loathe that I see on the rise is the fetishization (not sure if that’s a word) of problems at their deepest roots, that entail suffering without context for what it is or having any moral consequences. I’ve read stories where rape is glorified, where abuse – physical, mental, emotional – is championed and desired over respect in a relationship, and in the case of Penelope Douglas’s “Bully”, bullying is seen as something that’s desirable despite of a victim’s experiences.

I’m not going to take away from Douglas’s narrative in the fact that it is compulsively readable and that it starts off with a heroine that does stand up for herself in the face of torments that she endures from the people who surround her. “Bully” had me, I went along with the story for a while. But then it lost me as it became clear that in all the measures surrounding this story, it glorifies falling in love with someone who torments you. Regardless of whatever issues the hero had, it doesn’t justify what he did to Tate, and I sincerely doubt after all that Jared did, Tate could forgive and lust after him as easily as she did.

Tate (Tatum) is a young woman who returns to town for her senior year after being away for a year in France. Her father is out on business, leaving Tatum by her lonesome at home, with a grandmother who occasionally checks in on her (though that was a little hard to believe, I suspended my disbelief enough to follow the story). Tate was once friends with her next door neighbor, Jared, but after he returned home after a stay with his father, he started to bully her. Some turns of his bullying is horrific to say the least, alongside his friends and jealous girlfriends who join into making Tate’s life miserable when she returns to town. Still, I liked how Tate stood up for herself in spells, and her retorts in places were actually humored well. I don’t know how I felt about the monologue – I know some people would think it’s emotionally resonant, but for me, for all the considerations of what Tate went through, it didn’t hit me as hard as I would’ve liked.

After a point, it was obvious that Tate was championed as having a love/hate relationship with Jared despite the horrible things he said and did to her. I hated that because there’s a line between the whole “I love you/I hate you” dynamic and having a hero who obviously gets off on hurting others while the heroine still succumbs to lust in light of that. This actually could’ve been a narrative where it clearly established Tate lusted after the boy that Jared used to be, but that measure was lost in the foray of the current actions that Jared did to her.

I still think one of the few authors who managed to portray a hero who was a jerk but was truly repentant of his ways and manages to be likable in turns was Kody Keplinger. Granted, “The DUFF” is YA, and this is NA, but at the same time – that felt more real of a story than this one and truly had something to say about its characters and the issues/conflicts it presented. “Bully” was shallow, underdeveloped, and fetishizing a major social and societal problem in comparison.

It forces the point home when Tate is a victim in so many ways and shouldn’t have had to endure it, especially with other people in her circles simply dismissing Jared’s actions so casually and them telling her in so many words “give him a chance”. Eff NO. Yes, it’s true that in order to understand the root of bullying and bullying behaviors, you have to see what factors play into the behaviors that are displayed and come to an understanding about why the bully engages the victim in the way they do. Usually that comes with getting help and having the bully deal with what’s perpetuating those behaviors in proper context. But to come at the expense of the victim and in not so subtle terms put the responsibility on the “victim” to change the “bully”? No, just no. I don’t care what age group this book is intended for, that’s not a good attitude to approach the matter.

Even when Tate figures that K.C. goes out with Jared for a time, I found it hard to believe Tate would turn a blind eye or feel guilty for distancing herself from a friend who would do that. Granted, I know the lot of us have different coping points and thresholds for forgiveness, but this narrative asked me one too many times to overlook some jarring conflicts in an attempt to see how the leading love interests “get together.” It was milked and manufactured and I did not see the constructiveness of its portrayal here.

Overall, I was very disappointed with the narrative here and I couldn’t get behind the relationship or the insinuations made on the subject matter here. It’s drama for the sake of drama, with characters that I’m supposed to believe fall in love, but it didn’t progress with any kind of realistic terms for me to believe in it.

Overall score: 1/5

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