Review Detail

Young Adult Nonfiction 191
A Story of Bullying and Loss
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A (quasi-creative?) non-fiction graphic novel, aimed at a Middle Grade or lower YA audience. It addresses the topic of bullying and teen suicide from a very personal angle.

Art-wise, the cover is probably my favorite aspect. The style makes good use to contrast and a semi-muted color pallet. But faces (especially the dad) were sometimes inconsistent, making it difficult to recognize characters from panel to panel.

I'm deeply conflicted over how to rate this one. The narrative is written by grieving parents, from the imagined perspective of their post-death (ghost?) daughter, Hailee--who is looking back on her entire life and the incidents leading up to her suicide. And while it's affectingly heartbreaking to be shown how much her death has devastated her family, the word choices sometimes stray into the territory of victim-blaming. And there are a great many assertions made about Hailee's thought processes and motivations without supporting evidence (i.e. diary entries, personal emails, notes texts, witness conversations, etc.) Indeed, it is repeatedly reiterated that Hailee never told her parents anything, nor asked for help from anyone. There is only a very abbreviated indication that, in her suicide note, she requested her parents tell the school what her bullies did to her. If in that note she expressed any reasons for lying to her parents and not seeking help, it isn't mentioned.

As a parent to a new middle schooler, I can't fathom being in their position--almost completely in the dark as to their child's struggles (thanks to an apparently incompetent school system) until it's too late. But I also see it as potentially destructive to focus so much on the child's actions and their far-reaching consequences, when Hailee had clearly been pushed into a frame of mind in which she could no longer be held responsible. And the "afterlife" portrayal, while vague and devoid of any belief system influence, does seem to suggest she is being punished in some sense (i.e. she is unable to see or be with her beloved dog, which died of a "broken heart" just weeks after her suicide. And she is supposedly forced to watch the daily agony of her parents and little brother.)

There is a real effort to examine what may have been going on in the lives of her bullies that contributed to them deflecting torment onto her. And while that deserves appreciation, it didn't offer any satisfaction as to whether the kids bullying her ever faced consequences--or indeed, if they even proved capable of experiencing remorse. They do mention that Hailee's parents settled a lawsuit against the school, and Nevada passed a law in her name requiring all schools to report all bullying incidents of the victims' AND bullies' families--which offers some sense of closure.

In the end, I'm just not sure the parents narrating on behalf of their daughter was the most effective way to convey Hailee's story. But for some, this may encourage an expanded perception of how far their life truly reaches.
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