"Sticks and stones may break your bones...."
We've all heard the saying. We all know it's not true. Names hurt. We've all been called names. We've called ourselves names. We did it as kids. We did it in middle school. We did it in high school, college. We do it now. But what if those names were on our bodies for the world to see? That is what happens to Elyse, our main character in Abby Cooper's debut novel, Sticks and Stones.
Today's post is not a review. It's about impact. On me. On my child.
If you haven't already heard about this book, here's the Goodreads summary:
Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first it was just "cute" and "adorable," but as she's gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like "loser" and "pathetic" appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like "interesting," which she's not really sure how to feel about. Now, at age twelve, she's starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying "I know who you are, and I know what you're dealing with. I want to help." As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.
In today's society, we hear about bullying. We hear about cyber bullying. But it seems to be that the bullying we hear about - through news, social media - is when something really bad happens as a result. But bullying happens everyday. In small ways that can make a big impact. What we hear and read seem to be sensationalized but it's what happens in Sticks and Stones that is much more common.
Growing up I always considered myself in the "average crowd". I had friends. Not a big circle, just a few close friends. I'm pretty sure that most people I grew up with wouldn't even remember who I was. I wasn't "the -est" of anything. You know, the prettiest, the sportiest, the smartest. Yet I have very very vivid memories of kids being mean, calling me names, saying rude things. Rarely was it popular kids. I wasn't an anything to them. Other kids who didn't know me. They were mean and I'm sure there was a variety of reasons behind it. Sometimes it was people I used to be friends with, but for whatever reason, an innocent falling out had occurred and I became an open target. The fact that I can remember things 32 years later shows how it had an impact. It's one of the most common forms of bullying and it's still happening and it happens everyday.
I worry about this now for my daughter. As many of you know, she is going through her third limb lengthening. She wears a brace on her right foot as well as a shoe lift. Before the surgery, it was 6 1/2 inches. Go ahead, get a ruler and look at the actual measurement. It's big. It should've been around 7 inches but I didn't feel the need to make it even bigger. The great thing about this surgery is the lift will shrink. Hopefully to 3 inches. She also has deep scars on her legs. She's had so many surgeries and incisions, I've lost count. She has indentations on her leg from the pins from the external fixators she's worn. She has drag marks down the sides of her legs from the pins moving during the lengthenings. We're so glad that this round she qualified for the internal fixator, but she still came out of surgery with 13 incisions. Those leave marks too. And she's going into 6th grade this year. With a 3 inch lift because even after this lengthening is done she still won't be even. She's not with any new kids. It's the same kids she went to school with in kindergarten. But I worry. Because kids change.
Just like in the book. Elyse's BFF, Jeg, who has always been there for her, ends up leaving her for the popular crowd. I remember that happening in middle school. Another girl, same name as me, who had always been "average", suddenly rose in the ranks. Suddenly she was sitting with the popular kids, who gave her a "makeover" (funny what shiny lipgloss does to a middle school-er). Her former friends (not me, I was just an innocent bystander), were left in the dust.
What if that happens to my child? What if kids, who have known her forever, start saying mean things to her? We do what we can as parents. My daughter has always had confidence and she is strong in a sport that is good for her, but what if things change?
I hope her school has this book in their classrooms and libraries. I hope middle grade teachers everywhere will start having conversations about this book. It must be shared. Please find this book on July 12th. Get a copy for yourself and consider getting a copy for someone else to read.
Sticks and Stones
by Abby Cooper
published by Farrar Straus Giroux
July 12, 2016