We all know that growing up can be hard, but middle school? Middle school can be the worst. That age between being a kid and being an adult, beginning to figure out who you are and what you like, and god help us all, puberty. That horrifying time of life where if you’re lucky you go through it quickly and when no one else is around. If you aren’t…then you go through it slowly and during school when everyone can make fun of you. But what do you do when you’re branded a “slut” by your classmates? How do you tell your parents or any adult what’s going on?
This book was Emily’s answer. While she didn’t feel comfortable talking to adults, she did keep a diary of what happened to her during this time period. And as an adult, she began posting the diary online. Page by page. Post by post. Detailing the trauma that she went through as an eleven year old girl, being called a slut. The blog is called “The UnSlut Project” and the goal was to let others know they weren’t alone. She provided commentary after each post, thoughts of what had happened and what she could/would do differently if she could have. This book is adapted from that blog, offering excerpts from that diary with commentary to provide perspective and context.
This…this is one of those books that is hard and heartbreaking to read. It isn’t easy to read the words of an eleven year old girl talking about her life or how she’s being shamed as a slut. It’s a heartbreaking read to know that people can be so cruel in life. And it’s even more heartbreaking when you read the afterwards and realize that some of the people didn’t realize they were doing it. Or that it had as much of an impact as it did on Emily’s world. Stop and think about that for a moment. These bullies have grown up. They remember they did these things. But they didn’t think it mattered or hurt that much. Let that sink in.
More heartbreaking in this book tough is you start to place yourself into the story. Whether it be the one being shamed, the bully, or the passive bystander that did nothing to stop it. Or maybe it’s all three. Maybe we’ve all had the different roles in our lifetime as things have changed and we’ve grown. It’s a sobering thought to realize the hurt that you’ve caused someone else. Or the hurt they’ve caused you. Or the realization that maybe, just maybe, you could have done something differently to stop what was happening, if only you had known. Or if only you had been brave enough.
And I know, we’re all probably sitting here thinking “Oh bull hockey. They knew what they were doing.” or “Hindsight doesn’t change what happened.” And no, it doesn’t. And no they might not have. What I take from this is, what if the bullies really don’t know what they’ve done? What if they know they’ve hurt, but not that they’ve hurt this much? Perhaps, just perhaps this is something we can learn from and take forward in our efforts to combat slut shaming and bulling. Perhaps this is where we build a table for people to sit down at and talk about the things that were said or left unsaid. Things that hurt and caused pain. Or to just weep silently and be near each other as we learn what we did that hurt.
This is a book that everyone should read, regardless of age. Particularly those that are just about to enter middle school. And yeah, I said about to enter middle school. We don’t need to cower or point fingers or hide behind sheets saying “Well my child would never do this!” or “I don’t want my child to learn about this from a book!” Because the truth of the mater is, they’ll learn about this anyway. And not from a book, but from the kid next door. Or that kid on the bus. Or that one in the classroom that you always thought was so nice, but it turns out he’s an asshole and a bully. And please, don’t tell me this would never happen. Or that your kid will never do this that you’ve raised them better. Peer pressure goes a long way to changing things.
The point is, you can’t avoid it. It would be nice if we could, but life doesn’t work that way. So stand up in the beginning. Let them know that this type of behavior isn’t acceptable. That if someone does this to them, to come and talk to them or someone they trust. Don’t let them be a bully to anyone. And to know that no matter what, it does get better.
Review copy provided by Quirk Books