From the Publisher
“Preller has perfectly nailed the middle school milieu, and his characters are well developed with authentic voices. The novel has a parablelike quality, steeped in a moral lesson, yet not ploddingly didactic. The action moves quickly, keeping readers engaged. The ending is realistic: there's no strong resolution, no punishment or forgiveness. Focusing on the large majority of young people who stand by mutely and therefore complicitly, this must-read book is a great discussion starter that pairs well with a Holocaust unit.” School Library Journal, starred review
“Bullying is a topic that never lacks for interest, and here Preller concentrates on the kids who try to ignore or accommodate a bully to keep themselves safe. For Eric to do the right thing is neither easy nor what he first wants to do, and the way he finds support among his classmates is shown in logical and believable small steps. Eminently discussable as a middle-school read-aloud, [with] appeal across gender lines.” Kirkus Reviews
“Preller displays a keen awareness of the complicated and often-conflicting instincts to fit in, find friends, and do the right thing. Although there are no pat answers, the message (that a bystander is hardly better than an instigator) is clear, and Preller's well-shaped characters, strong writing, and realistic treatment of middle-school life deliver it cleanly.” Booklist
“Plenty of kids will see themselves in these pages, making for painful, if important, reading.” Publishers Weekly
“An easy pick for middle school classroom and school libraries, this book is a worthy addition to collections focused on bullying and larger public libraries, especially those with an active younger teen population.” VOYA
“If Judy Blume could write a book about Little League, about its players' deepest fears and secret dreams, it might come out something like this.” Publishers Weekly, starred review on Six-Innings
“Dishing up a rare example of a character-driven tale that is also suspenseful and exciting, [Preller] chronicles a magnificent championship game between two Little League teams that is as much about the players as the plays.” Booklist, starred review on Six-Innings
“Following the play-by-play builds suspense and brings the reader right into the action and the special world of baseball and the people who love it.” Kirkus Reviews on Six-Innings
“A tale of baseball, friendship, growth, and coming to terms with hardships, this fast read will grasp any reader who enjoys sports.” School Library Journal on Six-Innings
“This is a book whose emotional pull creeps up on you, pitch by pitch....Like the boys on the field and in the press box, readers will feel this is a game to remember.” Shelf Awareness on Six-Innings
The question at the heart of this story turns on what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the appalling silence of the good people.” Is it just as bad to see someone get mistreated and not act as it is to be the bully? The villain is Griffin Connelly, a smooth operator with a megawatt smile and a dark heart, who regularly receives the back of his father's hand and passes along the abuse to any “sick gazelles” he finds at Bellport Central Middle School. When new student Eric refuses to play lapdog, he becomes the target. The strength of Preller's (Along Came Spider) narrative lies in how well he orchestrates Eric's response—he knows there is no easy answer and that going to adults is not always the best thing to do. As he wrestles with his conscience, Eric is befriended by Mary, a classmate making her own stand against malicious teasing. Plenty of kids will see themselves in these pages, making for painful, if important, reading. The resolution, though realistic, may leave some dissatisfied, as the bully moves on but never gets the comeuppance he so richly deserves. Ages 10–up. (Oct.)
VOYA - Elsworth Rockefeller
When Eric moved from Ohio to Long Island, he expected there to be challenges, but he did not anticipate being befriended by the local bully, charismatic and troubled Griffin. As the boys' relationship grows, Eric is unsettled by Griffin's actions, which include stealing from elderly people, physically abusing classmates, and emotionally tormenting peers. Eric decides to stand up to Griffin through his actions, but quickly becomes a target. He must access all support availablethrough friends, teachers, and within himselfto do the right thing. Eric's struggles are portrayed in a believable, accessible way that is sure to engage readers on both sides of the bullying experience. Heavy foreshadowing lets teens know what to expect as they move through the text, and the story stays focused on Eric and Griffin, which will be appreciated by readers looking for a straightforward narrative. Secondary characters are cast vaguely, which is fine for this text, and details of Eric's father, who left the family when his schizophrenia became too much to handle, are appropriate and feel realistic. The inclusion of Mary, a strong ally for Eric, balances the text and offers a dynamic female presence. Although didactic, many teens will relate to this story and find strength in Eric's experiences. A fitting conclusionthat might leave some teens disappointedlacks drama but rings true. An easy pick for middle school classroom and school libraries, this book is a worthy addition to collections focused on bullying and larger public libraries, especially those with an active younger teen population. Reviewer: Elsworth Rockefeller
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Eric Hayes has moved from Ohio to Long Island, NY, with his mother and younger brother. His schizophrenic father left long ago. Eric soon meets Griffin Connelly, a handsome kid with natural leadership, lots of charisma, and a real mean streak. While Griffin is the perfect bully, David Hallenback is the perfect victim: beaten down and willing to do anything to get Griffin's approval. At first, Eric is a bystander, not participating in the bullying but not doing anything to stop it. However, several events move him out of this passive role: Griffin steals from him and reveals Eric's confidences about his father; adults at school address bullying; and Mary, a girl he likes, takes a stand against it. Eric realizes that his silence makes him complicit and speaks out, only to become Griffin's next victim. Preller has perfectly nailed the middle school milieu, and his characters are well developed with authentic voices. The novel has a parablelike quality, steeped in a moral lesson, yet not ploddingly didactic. The action moves quickly, keeping readers engaged. The ending is realistic: there's no strong resolution, no punishment or forgiveness. Focusing on the large majority of young people who stand by mutely and therefore complicitly, this must-read book is a great discussion starter that pairs well with a Holocaust unit.—Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
Bullying is a topic that never lacks for interest, and here Preller concentrates on the kids who try to ignore or accommodate a bully to keep themselves safe. Victim David's pain is evident from the first moment newcomer Eric sees him, but he tries not to acknowledge the reality before him. His mother is trying for a fresh start in this Long Island community, as his father has succumbed to schizophrenia and left her and their two boys on their own. Griffin, the bullying instigator, has charisma of sorts; he is a leader and yet suffers under his father's bullying and aggression. For Eric to do the right thing is neither easy nor what he first wants to do, and the way he finds support among his classmates is shown in logical and believable small steps. Eminently discussable as a middle-school read-aloud, the narrative offers minimal subplots to detract from the theme. The role of girls is downplayed, except for classmate Mary, who is essential to the resolution, enhancing appeal across gender lines. (Fiction. 11-14)
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
It is not so easy moving from the heartlands to Long Island with a broken family, harder still being the new seventh-grader in middle school. Wanting only to make friends, Eric Hayes finds himself smack in the middle of games being played by the resident bully, Griffin, and his current target, David Hallenback. Eric opts for the role of neutral bystander until Griffin's gang ups the pressure to unexpected levels. The entire seventh grade seems to be going through some kind of escalating nightmare: thefts, beatings, Web page slanders, possible intimations of Columbine-style revenge. When Eric attempts to move from bystander to mediator, he becomes the victim. Where will it stop? Can the terror be stopped? Author of the well received Six Innings, Preller breaks away from his usual sports-oriented stories to address the moral issues of adolescent victimization. This is a good "boy read," and should lead to vigorous class discussions. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr
Read an Excerpt
The first time Eric Hayes ever saw him, David Hallenback was running, if you could call it that, running in a halting, choppy-stepped, stumpy-legged shamble, slowing down to look back over his shoulder, stumbling forward, pausing to catch his breath, then lurching forward again.
He was running from, not to, and not running, but fleeing.
Eric had never seen the boy before. But in this town, a place called Bellport, Long Island, it was true of most kids. Eric didn’t know anybody. He bounced the basketball, flicking it with his fingertips, not looking at the ball, or the rim, or anything else on the vast, empty grounds behind the middle school except for that curly-haired kid who couldn’t run to save his life. Which was too bad, really, because it looked to Eric like he might be doing exactly that—running for his life.
Eric took a halfhearted jumper, missed. No lift in his legs. The ball bounced to the left wing, off the asphalt court and onto the grass, where it rolled and settled, unchased. Eric had been shooting for almost an hour. Working on his game or just killing time, Eric wasn’t sure. He was tired and hot and a little bored or else he would have bounded after the ball like a pup, pounced on it after the first bounce, spun on spindly legs, and fired up a follow-up shot. Instead he let the ball roll to the grass and, hands on his hips, dripping sweat, watched the running boy as he continued across the great lawn in his direction.
He doesn’t see me, Eric thought.
Behind him there was the sprawling Final Rest Pet Cemetery. According to Eric’s mother, it was supposedly the third-largest pet cemetery in the United States. And it’s not like Eric’s mom was making that up just to make Eric feel better about “the big move” from Ohio to Long Island. Because, duh, nobody is going to get all pumped up just because there’s a big cemetery in your new hometown, stuffed with dead cats and dogs and whatever else people want to bury. Were there pet lizards, tucked into little felt-lined coffins? Vietnamese potbellied pigs? Parakeets? People were funny about pets. But burying them in a real cemetery, complete with engraved tombstones? That was a new one on Eric. A little excessive, he thought.
As the boy drew closer, Eric could see that his shirt was torn. Ripped along the side seam, so that it flapped as he ran. And . . . was that blood? There were dark red splotches on the boy’s shirt and jeans (crazy to wear those on a hot August afternoon). Maybe it was just paint. The whole scene didn’t look right, that much was sure. No one seemed to be chasing after the boy. He had come from the far side of the school and now traveled across the back of it. The boy’s eyes kept returning to the corner of the building, now one hundred yards away. Nothing there. No monsters, no goblins, no ghosts, no thing at all.
Eric walked to his basketball, picked it up, tucked it under his arm, and stood watching the boy. He still hadn’t spotted Eric, even though he was headed in Eric’s direction.
At last, Eric spoke up. “You okay?” he asked. Eric’s voice was soft, even gentle, but his words stopped the boy like a cannon shot to the chest. He came to a halt and stared at Eric. The boy’s face was pale, freckled, mushy, with small, deep-set eyes and a fat lower lip that hung like a tire tube. He looked distrustful, a dog that had been hit by too many rolled-up newspapers.
Eric stepped forward, gestured to the boy’s shirt. “Is that blood?”
The boy’s face was blank, unresponsive. He didn’t seem to understand.
“On your shirt,” Eric pointed out.
The boy looked down, and when his eyes again lifted to meet Eric’s, they seemed distant and cheerless. There was a flash of something else there, just a fleeting something in the boy’s eyes: hatred.
Hot, dark hatred.
“No, no. Not . . . bl-blood,” the boy said. There might have been a trace of a stutter in his voice, something in the way he paused over the “bl” consonant blend.
Whatever it was, the red glop was splattered all over the boy’s pants and shirt. Eric could see traces of it in the boy’s hair. Then Eric smelled it, a familiar whiff, and he knew. Ketchup. The boy was covered with ketchup.
Eric took another step. A look of panic filled the boy’s eyes. He tensed, stepped back, swiveled his head to again check the far corner of the building. Then he took off without a word. He moved past Eric, beyond the court, through a gap in the fence, and into the cemetery.
“Hey!” Eric called after him. “I’m not—”
But the ketchup boy was long gone.
Excerpted from Bystander by James Preller.
Copyright © 2009 by James Preller.
Published in 2009 by Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.