The Truth About Truman School by Dori Hillestad Butler

trumanschoolThe Truth About Truman School is a book I bought at the end of the school year, since it’s about a middle school and my sixth graders were getting ready to take their next steps to seventh grade themselves.  We had been having some problems with kids being mean to each other, and I knew they were tired of hearing me lecture and I was tired of giving the same speeches day after day, reminding everyone to please just BE NICE.  Most of my students had been attending school together since their preschool days; they were at the point of splitting up to go in different directions for the fall so they were sad, but they also knew just how to push each other’s buttons and drive each other bonkers.  (It’s a fine line between love and hate, so they say.)  So I figured maybe if I couldn’t say anything else, I could throw out a reading experience that some kids would pick up on, and I ended up buying this book.

In the story, Zebby and Amr are neighbors and best friends.  They had a third friend, Lilly, but they “lost” her to the popular group in middle school, and hadn’t really interacted with her much lately.  Zebby wants to be a journalist when she grows up, but is frustrated with the way the school newspaper is being run.  Everything is sugar-coated and nobody can write anything even slightly critical about the school.  She and Amr decide to start a website for school news, where anyone can post anything they want– best teacher/worst teacher, opinion pieces, polls, etc.  They promise that they will not censor anyone like the official school newspaper does.

Of course, this idea of letting anyone speak their mind without consequence begins to spiral out of control.  The site quickly becomes a gossip site, and Lilly is the main target.  Someone is spreading anonymous rumors about her, and going through a LOT of trouble to do it.  This story follows the effects of cyberbullying on Lilly and the others who were involved, by alternating narrators and multiple perspectives.

I thought it was a very up-to-date topic, and was handled very well.  I do wish that the mean girls had expressed a bit more remorse, or indicated that they had learned a little something from their part.  Two of the stories end with a very flippant, “It was just a joke, no big deal” kind of attitude.  I suppose that’s real life though.  Not everyone will get it or have as much empathy as we would like.  You might recognize yourself in any one of these characters, or maybe more than one, since this age is so complicated for all of us.  It’s good to know that we aren’t alone, even if it sometimes just feels like us and a fictional character.  That’s why we read, to make connections.  And maybe reading something like this can help you learn to reach out to a friend who is struggling or even to make changes in yourself.

This was a really fast read, especially since there are no chapter breaks.  That always makes it hard for me to put a book down because I never know where to stop!  The Truth About Truman School has an AR level of 4.4 and is worth 6 points.




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