Bully.com by Joe Lawlor
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: I read this book back in May for Booklist’s Mystery Month but somehow never got it written up in time. It has languished in a stack of read books that try to bully me into writing about them. This one didn’t let go. Bully.com (Eerdmans 2013) is a slim (by today’s book length standards), mystery about cyberbullying set in a middle school. Lawlor is a middle school English teacher and his setting rings true even if all of the events that propel the plot stretch reality a little. The story centers around Jun Li, a 7th grade boy of mixed Asian ethnicity featured on the front cover (thank you for that!). The story opens with model student, Jun, asking his teacher to reconsider a test question that he marked wrong. Jun did some follow up online research in the library and confirmed his answer was also correct. Never mind that he was arguing about the bonus question; he’d gotten 100% on the test. Applications to private school are due soon and Jun wants the best record he can get. Unfortunately, that may not happen. Jun is summonsed to the principal’s office and accused of cyberbullying. A classmate’s photo showing her bulemic habits was circulated and it generated from the computer station in the library that Jun was using at that approximate time. Jun argues for his innocence and as an effort to forestall punishment, offers to use his considerable computer skills to find the real culprit. The principal, who probably doesn’t know how to send an email let alone track one, agrees to give Jun one week to clear his name.
Jun enlists the help of his best friend, Chris, the tallest girl in the 7th grade and a basketball player, to help him track down leads. What follows is a look at middle school, friendships, bullying, a glimpse into eating disorders, and computer work (including the issue of privacy vs. parental control) all wrapped into a mystery suitable for its audience. When Jun is banned from the home computer he is forced to research in….horror of all horrors…the family library….BOOKS!
Books, as far as Jun was concerned, were like old computers. They were slow, cumbersome, and their search engines (a.k.a. the table of contents) were horribly inefficient.
He does like finding the shelf of old detective novels…books can still sometimes be good I guess. Whew. Thank you, Jun. I feel better. This book looks like it could be the start of a series. I’d recommend trying this first one with your middle school students…I think it will be an easy sell.