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Book Review: Cornered, 15 Stories of Bullying and Defiance

You can’t turn on the nightly news without hearing news stories about how bullying is affecting the lives of our teens.  Make no mistake, bullying has always been an issue, but the impact of it seems to be changing as bullying takes to the Internet.  Teens are talking about it.  Parents are talking about it.  School are talking about it.  And authors are writing about it.  So I was interested in seeing this collection of 15 stories about bullying.

Cornered has a foreward written by Chris Crutcher.  Chris Crutcher is a fabulous author, he is one of my favorites, but he is also an adolescent psychologist with keen insight into the teenage psyche.  In his forward Crutcher notes that “bullying starts with adults” because we “don’t tolerate kids finding their ways through natural developmental stages.”  I also appreciate it when Crutcher says, “If you want to find the bullies, a good place to look is among the bullied.  Most of what we learn as little ones comes through our pores.  Back before language we absorb through our senses.”  In some ways, when we are talking about teens, it is too late, they have already learned the ways of violence.  Crutcher’s introduction provides a keen, thoughtful introduction to these varied 15 stories.  And the stories themselves will prompt some good discussion about the topic with your teens.

Here’s another interesting thing about short story anthologies; although it seems like they would be an easy sell – especially to reluctant readers – they are, in fact, a very hard sell in terms of library circulation I have always found.  I imagine they work well in the classroom and the school library, but I have always found they are dust collectors in the public library.  But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t purchase them.  (What about at your library – do short story collections circulate for you?)

But let’s talk about this particular collection of short stories, shall we?  Like all short story collections, there are some good and some kinda meh.  There are a couple of stories, like Inside the Inside by Mayra Lazara Dole, that take the topic of bullying out of reality and into the realm of fantasy.

The two stories that have stayed with me the longest after reading this collection are Nemesis by Kirsten Miller and How Auto-Tune Saved My Life by Brendan Halpin.

Nemesis is the story of an individual who goes by the name, well, Nemesis.  Once a victim of bullying herself, she now offers a unique service to those being bullied: she anonymously documents their tormentors and sends them a cease and desist order or threatens to go public.  But what happens if the person that contacts you for this service happens to be the person who tormented you?

How Auto-Tune Saved My Life is a fascinating look at bullying because in this case, it is the teacher that it a bully.  Of course it is true, with power and authority, such as teachers have in the classroom, comes a great temptation to abuse that power – and your students.  This was a brutal story.  We all know teachers that had a reputation, but it is nothing compared to the teacher in this story.  Here, some students get together and find a unique way to try and bring the problem to light, with interesting results.  Because the sad truth is that sometimes, the bully wins and justice does not prevail.

Like Kicking a Fence by Kate Ellison (author of The Butterfly Clues, a previous Rec of the Week) touches on what Crutcher mentioned in his foreward.  As the title implies, this is a brutal story, full of raw emotion and some intense physical violence.

In this collection of 15 stories there are a wide variety of targets and perpetrators and there is good coverage of various scenarios.  Issues of sexuality and gender identity are raised, suicide is discussed, and the role and reactions of parents and educators are highlighted.  I tried to read these stories in one sitting but it was rough; these are intense, raw emotions being discussed.  I posted rants several times while reading these stories on my Facebook page about my thoughts on bullying and how angry it makes me.  These stories will definitely make you think, challenge some of what we think we know about bullies and bullying, and can really open the floodgates of discussion.  For me, personally, a couple of the stories simply didn’t work; but a couple of the stories worked so well that it makes the collection a good purchase, especially for schools.  I would love to see schools make reading and discussing How Auto-Tune Saved My Life a regular part of staff development to be honest.

And to close our 15 stories, there is a short story by Lish McBride, author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer.  Let me just say that if you have not read Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, you should stop what you are doing and go read it NOW! Seriously, I’ll wait.  I love that book – it is wicked funny and very Buffyesque.  Her short story here, We Should Get Jerseys ‘Cause We Make a Good Team, has some Necromancer tie-in and it ends the collection on just the right note.

As a total side note, since we are discussing short stories about bullying, I would like to recommend that you pair this collection with the truly amazing short story All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury, one of the most gut wrenching stories about bullying I have ever read.  I read it in English class, 8th grade, and still think of it often to this day.  You can view the story here.  It would make an interesting unit to look at the old and the new and compare the two.

As for Cornered, it comes out in July of 2012 and is being published by Running Press Teens.  I give it a 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it particularly for school libraries and classrooms.  And like I said, schools should consider reading and discussing How Auto-Tune Saved My Life as part of their yearly staff development.

Table of Contents:
Nemesis by Kirsten Miller
On Your Own Level by Sheba Karim
The Shift Sticks by Josh Berk
Everyone’s Nice by David Yoo
Defense Mechanisms by Elizabeth Miles
Sweet Sixteen by Zetta Elliott
Like Kicking a Fence by Kate Ellison
How Auto-Tune Saved My Life by Brenda Halpin
TK by Rhoda Belleza
The Ambush by Matthue Roth
Inside the Inside by Mayra Lazara Dole
But Not Forgotten by Jennifer Brown
The Truest Story There Is by Jaime Adoff
Still Not Dead by James Lecesne
We Should Get Jerseys ‘Cause We Make a Good Team by Lish McBride

Want to win a copy of this ARC?  Leave a comment before June 17th – our 1 year birthday – and you’ll be entered to win.  Be sure to leave a contact e-mail in your comment.


  1. This sounds like an awesome read–and I love the other recommendations you give. As a middle school librarian, I am always looking for new suggestions to give teachers for our DEAR time, which some use as a read aloud time. I am loving your blog, by the way!

  2. Anonymous says

    I love the short story “All Summer in a Day.” The eighth grade teachers in my school read it every year. I'm excited to recommend this collection to them!


  3. Would be interested in this title. Just wrote a blog post about tween bullying and I am still looking for more book resources. LizAnnBowen@gmail.com.

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