The Truth about Truman School

The Truth about Truman School

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by Dori Hillestad Butler

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(Ages: 9-13) They just wanted to tell the truth.

When Zebby and Amr create the website, they want it to be honest. They want it to be about the real Truman Middle School, to say things that the school newspaper would never say, and to give everyone a chance to say what they want to say, too.

But given the chance, some people will


(Ages: 9-13) They just wanted to tell the truth.

When Zebby and Amr create the website, they want it to be honest. They want it to be about the real Truman Middle School, to say things that the school newspaper would never say, and to give everyone a chance to say what they want to say, too.

But given the chance, some people will say anything-anything to hurt someone else. And when rumors about one popular student escalate to cruel new levels, it's clear the truth about Truman School is more harrowing than anyone ever imagined.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Heather Christensen
Fourteen-year-old Zebby, an aspiring journalist frustrated by the restrictions she perceives to be placed on her writing for the school newspaper, convinces her best friend Amr to help her launch a new website. This free and open forum allows students to express their true thoughts and feelings about their school, Truman Middle School. Little do they realize that their open policy allows the website to become a platform for the persecution of their classmate and former friend, Lilly. Told in the alternating viewpoints of various eighth graders involved in the incident, the story reveals the ease with which the anonymity of the web allows and even encourages cyberbullying. Butler's characters at times fall into stereotyping—mean, popular girls and dumb jocks, for example—though the many adults who turn a blind eye towards bullying of all kinds may unfortunately be too common. Butler empowers the young by giving them voices. While at the end some of the teens fail to grasp how their own actions contributed to the problem, others—like Zebby, Amr, and even Lilly—understand all to well and consequently learn and grow from the experience. This painful, though ultimately hopeful novel sheds light on a growing problem. It might be used to spark a discussion on cyber and other forms of bullying. Reviewer: Heather Christensen
AGERANGE: Ages 11 to 15.

Zebby and Amr create to share things about Truman Middle School that would not be allowed in the school newspaper. The idea is to let anyone post anything they want, as long as it is the truth as they believe it to be. Things get out of control when someone anonymously uses the Web site to start rumors about another student. Readers will recognize the characters in the book-Hayley, the leader of the popular group; Lilly and Brianna, her hangers-on; Reece, the football star; Sara and Trevor, the social outcasts. The story is told through posts by each character, telling his or her version of what happened at the school. The anguish of middle school shows through in the posts. Even the popular kids are insecure. The voices are real, revealing the emotional struggles of middle school students. Zebby and Amr learn to be responsible editors of the site. The bully finds that taking Lilly down is not as satisfying as he thought it would be. They all learn that there are real consequences to actions that may not seem so important at the time. Readers might learn to empathize with those whom they might be tempted to tease. The story would be a good vehicle for starting a discussion about bullying and the effect on all students in the school. Reviewer: Deborah L. Dubois
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)

School Library Journal

Gr 5-8- Told not to write anything that would get the administration riled up, Zebby Bower becomes fed up and quits as editor of the school newspaper. Soon after, she and her friend Amr begin their own online newspaper, one that they hope will provide a true voice to the students of Truman Middle. It takes off, but in an unfortunate direction. When anonymous posts about popular Lilly Clarke start to get vicious, calling her a homo, a lesbo, and more, the devastated girl goes missing, and the site's creators scramble to figure out what to do. Chapters alternate among Zebby, Amr, and the students surrounding the scheme to ruin Lilly, each one providing a unique perspective as the action unfolds. With anonymous entries that subtly build suspense, the events brought about by this 21st-century slam book cause the characters to examine how the things they say and do can be hurtful to others without even realizing it. The story moves at a good pace and the timely subject of cyberbullying will be relevant to readers. The language is accessible and the students' voices ring true. This thought-provoking read is sure to initiate discussion.-Bethany A. Lafferty, Las Vegas-Clark County Library, NV

Kirkus Reviews
It all begins when Zebby quits the Truman Middle School Bugle in protest over the newspaper advisor's refusal to let her say anything negative about the school. Zebby and her friend Amr then put together an alternative website: After the site catches on with the popular kids, Zebby and Amr are off and running, writing critical articles and publishing comics and opinion pieces by anonymous students. Events take an unfortunate turn when someone begins adding malicious posts regarding a popular girl who was once a friend of Zebby and Amr's, and things get worse when she is untruthfully outed as a lesbian. Told from multiple perspectives as a compilation of the points of view of all involved, this is an exercise in ethics and morality, particularly pertinent given the power of the Internet. Though sometimes a bit pedantic, this is a realistic portrayal of the negative influence of bullying, cliques, and peer pressure as they might affect tweens inside and outside the online world. (Fiction. 10-13)

Product Details

Whitman, Albert & Company
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Truth about Truman School

By Dori Hillestad Butler


Copyright © 2008 Dori Hillestad Butler
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-4998-5


Can you believe this? The language arts teachers are making everyone write about what happened for class. I don't mind writing about it; I like writing. I just don't want to write about it for school.

Why should we have to write about something so personal for people who get paid to grade us on our spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and main idea? How are we supposed to write about what happened, or how it affected us, if we're all stressed out about what grade we're going to get?

So I got to thinking ... if you're like me, and you want to write about it, but you don't want to write about it for school, write two versions: the school version ... and the truth. Turn the school version in to your language arts teacher (after you check your spelling and grammar, and make sure you have a clear, well-thought-out main idea). Then email the other version to:

I'll read through everyone's stories; then I'll cut and paste, change the names, and rearrange the whole thing into one big story the REAL truth about Truman School.

The Truth about Truman

Zebby Bower, Webmaster


I am not one of the popular girls. I've never been popular, and I probably will never be popular. But that's fine. I'd much rather have a brain of my own than be popular.

Still, when you think about it, it's pretty amazing that a non-popular person such as myself could launch the hottest website in school. Yes, I am one of the people behind the Truth about The other person is my friend, Amr Nasir. But this isn't a story about me and Amr. It's a story about the website we started and what happened because of it.

I suppose the first thing you want to know is what, or who, is Truman? Truman is our school, Truman Middle School. But because this is the Internet, and for all I know, you could be some freak cyberstalker, I better not say any more about it than that. I'll just tell you it's an average-sized school, in an average-sized town, somewhere in the middle of the U.S. of A. I'm an eighth grader there. Most of the other people you'll meet here are eighth graders at Truman, too.

Believe me, when we started this website, neither Amr nor I had any idea what was going to happen. We started it as sort of a public service.


You see, before the Truth about Truman came along, I was the editor-in-chief of the Truman Bugle. Don't be too impressed. I only got the job because no one else wanted it. At the end of last year, Mrs. Jonstone asked all the seventh-grade Bugle staff members (all four of us) who wanted to be editor next year. I, of course, raised my hand because I'm going to be a journalist someday. I'm going to travel the world and write hard-hitting, thought-provoking articles about war, global warming, and all the other big problems facing us today. Being editor of my school newspaper was a good place to start. But Mrs. Jonstone sort of looked past me and said, "Is there anybody else who'd like to be editor next year?" You could tell how badly she wanted somebody, anybody, else to raise their hand. It's because of the blue streaks in my hair. Mrs. Jonstone doesn't like kids with blue hair.

But nobody else wanted to be editor, so Mrs. Jonstone was stuck with me.

We butted heads right from the start. First, I wanted to do an article on the new math curriculum and how us kids are just a bunch of guinea pigs because no one really knows whether the new curriculum is going to be any better than the old curriculum until they see whether our test scores go up or down. But Mrs. Jonstone said no to my article. She said, "Students aren't in any position to comment on curriculum."

So then I wanted to do an article on the student council and how it's nothing but a big popularity contest. Once again, Mrs. Jonstone said no because, "Student council isn't about popularity at all. It's about leadership." (Has she actually seen who's on the student council this year? People like Hayley Wood and Reece Weber may be popular, but they don't know anything about leadership.)Finally, Amr suggested we do a feature article on bullying. I thought this was a great idea because kids like Sara Murphy and Trevor Pearson were always getting hassled at school, and nobody ever did anything about it. This was what you'd call a "timely issue," so I thought sure Mrs. Jonstone would go for it. Besides, I wasn't the one who suggested it; Amr was.

But Mrs. Jonstone still said no. She actually looked Amr in the eye and said, "We don't have a problem with bullying here at Truman, and an article like that would just get the administration all riled up."

I don't know which Truman School Mrs. Jonstone teaches at, but it can't be the one in the average-sized town in the middle of the U.S. of A., because that's the one I go to, and I can tell you we do have a bullying problem here. A pretty big one, actually. But you can't argue with someone like Mrs. Jonstone.

The only articles she was willing to run in the Bugle were articles on how wonderful our football team was or how fabulous the last band concert was (though she blacked out the part in Ryan Kelley's article where he said the clarinets were flat). Mrs. Jonstone only liked articles that made you go rah, rah, isn't our school great?

Well, guess what? Middle school isn't great. And I, for one, was getting pretty tired of pretending it was.

So I quit the Bugle in protest.

Our media specialist, Mrs. Conway, tried to talk me out of it. She said, "I know how important the school newspaper is to you, Zebby. Think about this! Don't cut off your nose to spite your face."

But that's exactly why I had to quit the Bugle. The school newspaper was important to me. It was probably more important to me than it was to any other kid at school. If the Bugle couldn't be a true and honest newspaper, then I would start a new newspaper. A newspaper that reported the truth about life at Truman.

My friend Amr was the one who convinced me I was doing the right thing. In fact, he wanted to help.

I only need two words to describe Amr Nasir: Computer Freak. So I wasn't surprised when Amr said, "We should do it online."

I thought publishing our newspaper online was a good idea, too. It would solve the whole how-do-we-distribute-an-underground-newspaper-at-school problem. Our school was pretty strict about what you could hand out at school and what you couldn't. Everything had to be "administration-approved." But if we put our newspaper online, we wouldn't be handing anything out. People would come to us.

Amr and I got started on the website right away. It kind of reminded me of the time when Amr and Lilly and I published the North Newport News a few years ago. Of course, that was back before Lilly dumped me and Amr because we were "dragging her down." (That's a whole other story, though it kind of relates to this story.) But Amr and I were older now; we could do a much better newspaper.

We decided to set it up so that anybody could post an article or a photo. I thought it would be good to let people comment on other people's articles, too. Like a blog. Middle-school kids like blogs!

And they don't like rules. So we only had two for our site:

Rule #1: Whatever you post had to be your original work.

Rule #2: Whatever you post had to be the truth. The truth about our school as you see it.

We decided to call our site The Truth about Truman. We even pooled our money and bought the domain. Then I wrote a short piece for the main page about what this site was all about, and how everyone was welcome to send us material because, unlike the Bugle, our newspaper was for everyone, and we weren't going to censor. Anyone could say whatever they wanted. Amr came up with a really cool layout.

Two days later, was up and running.


Setting up the site was easy. The hard part was getting people to visit and post on it. I hate to tell you this, but Zebby and I were the bottom feeders of our school. Nobody paid any attention to us.

So, we decided we wouldn't tell anyone the Truth about Truman was our site. We pretended we'd just stumbled onto it, and we walked around school saying stuff like, "Hey, have you seen the Oh yeah, that is such a cool website. Everyone's talking about it. I wonder who started it?" But that just shows you how not popular we are. The only person who even looked at us when we talked about it was that girl with the bad skin. Sara What's-her-name.

If Zebby and I were bottom feeders at Truman, Sara was even lower than that. I didn't know what the deal was with her, but she never talked. So she wouldn't exactly be spreading the word.

I checked our stat counter every day after school. After three days, we had had a grand total of seven hits. Three were mine. Two were Zebby's. The other two were probably mistakes.

"We need to get other people talking about our site," I told Zebby when we were hanging out at my house. "We need to create a buzz. We need to make people think that the Truth about is where everyone goes after school And that people who haven't been on it must not be very cool."

Zebby flipped the blue part of her hair back behind her shoulder. "Yes, because even we've been on it!"

"Funny," I said. "But I'm serious. I also think we need to put some stuff up on the site ourselves to get things started. And then we need to add some fake comments to the stuff we put up, so it looks like people are actually reading and commenting already."

Zebby nodded. "Okay," she said.

So we sat down and started writing some articles right then and there. I wrote an article about how five minutes is nowhere near enough time to get from one end of the building to the other, especially if you're coming from the gym. In the time it took me to write that, Zebby wrote two articles.

Her first article was about the new curriculum, which was okay, but her second article really got my attention. "The Truman Middle School Stupid Rules Hall of Fame," I read out loud.

Rule #1 on Zebby's list was: Students at Truman May Not Use the North Stairs. Which means if you're coming from music, which is down at the north end of the building on the first floor, and you have math with Mr. Wesack or Mrs. Connor next, you can't go up the stairs that are right next to the music room. You have to go halfway down the hall to the main stairs, go up those stairs, then go all the way back to the end of the hall. Why? Because students aren't allowed to use the north stairs. Nobody knows why.

Rule #6 was: Students at Truman Are Permitted 10 Bathroom Passes Per Trimester. I didn't even know about that rule.

"What? We're only allowed to go to the bathroom ten times the whole trimester? What happens if we have to go eleven times?"

Zebby shrugged. "We're out of luck."

"How does anyone know how many bathroom passes we've used during the trimester?" I asked.

Zebby shrugged again. "I didn't make any of these up. I copied them out of the student handbook."

I turned my attention back to Zebby's notebook. "Hey, this is really good," I said when I got to the part where she wrote, We at the Truth about Truman do not have an explanation for why any of these rules exist. If you have any ideas (real or made up), please post a comment. "That's a good way to get people to participate."

"That's what I thought," Zebby said. "Plus I thought it will make people want to come back and see what other people wrote."

"Do you know what else will make people come back?" I asked.


"A poll."

"What kind of poll?" Zebby narrowed her eyes at me. "Something with politics?"

"Uh, most kids aren't too into politics," I said.

"Yeah, I know," Zebby said glumly. She read three newspapers every day from cover to cover, so she was always trying to talk politics with someone. "Well, what are most kids into?" she asked, chewing on her pen.

"I don't know. Music, sports, video games ..."

"Should we ask people what's their favorite video game?" Zebby asked.

"No. That's not big enough. We need something bigger."

"Like what?"

"I don't know." But then I thought of something. "How about who's your favorite teacher?" Kids always had opinions on teachers. And our site was supposed to be about our school.

Zebby shook her head. "Everybody would pick Mr. King."

She was probably right. Mr. King was one of the eighth-grade science teachers, and he was awesome! We didn't use a book in his class; instead we mostly did experiments. And they were fun experiments, too. Lots of blowing things up, making noise, getting messy.

"Maybe instead of who's your favorite teacher, we should ask who's your least favorite teacher?" Zebby suggested. Which was even better than my idea because people are more likely to tell you something they don't like rather than something they do like.

Except, "Won't we get in trouble if we say bad things about teachers?" I asked.

"No," Zebby said. "This is our website, remember? It's not a school website. We can say whatever we want on our website and no one can complain about it."

"Yeah," I agreed after I thought about it a little. "The teachers probably won't even read it anyway." We were having a hard enough time just getting kids to read it.

"Plus some teachers really are bad," Zebby went on. "The Truth about can be a safe place to talk about it if you've got a bad teacher. It's another reason people might come to our site."

So I set up the poll. I listed all the teachers by name and then wrote the following headline: "Vote for the absolute worst teacher at Truman." I set it up so it would keep a running total of votes each teacher was getting.

Zebby and I each voted four times to start things off. I gave my personal development teacher, Mr. Bonham, two votes because he plays favorites, and I gave my language arts teacher, Mrs. Keene, two votes because she just isn't a very good teacher. Zebby gave Mrs. Jonstone four votes, but she agreed with me about Mr. Bonham and Mrs. Keene.

After that we used different logins so we could comment on each others' stories without anyone knowing it was us. And finally, I set up a forum where people could write their bad teacher stories for everyone else to read.

Our site looked way better!

"Now all we need is for someone, anyone, from school to click on our site," I said.

"All we need is one," Zebby agreed. "One person to visit our site, then tell everyone else about it."

"In other words, one of the popular kids," I said.

Zebby nodded.

"How are we going to get one of them to click on our site?" I asked.

A slow smile spread across Zebby's face. "I don't know why I didn't think of this before ... "


You want to know where I first heard about the Truth about Believe it or not, I read about it in the second floor girls' bathroom. The one way at the end of the hall that no one except us uses. Somebody wrote: "Check out" in lipstick on the mirror.

First of all, I don't know why someone would ruin a perfectly good tube of lipstick to write that on the mirror. But it made me wonder what was. So I pulled out my phone and text-messaged Hayley to see if she knew anything about it.

Hayley messaged me right back and said: every1 is talkin bout it. wher hav u been?

Of course, now I wish I had never said anything about that site.


Okay, I never even saw the lipstick message. And if you must know, I had never even heard of the Truth about Truman .com until Brianna told me about it. But I couldn't let her think she knew about something that I didn't! You know how it is.

So when we were in the media center working on our disease projects for science, I waited until Mrs. Conway was busy with some other kids, then I typed in and checked it out. I didn't know back then that that weird girl with the blue hair and her nerd friend had started it. I don't think anyone knew, because it looked like a pretty cool site. It looked like the kind of thing someone in our group would've set up. If we actually wanted to set up a website.

"Hey, what are you doing?" Reece asked, peering at my screen. He was at the computer next to mine.

Reece and I used to go out in fifth grade, but I got bored with him and broke up with him after about two months.

"Checking out what's new on the Truth about Truman," I said.

"What's that?" he asked.

"It's a website about our school," I said, like it was no big deal.

Reece checked over his shoulder to make sure Mrs. Conway wasn't looking, then he got on that site, too. And pretty soon Jonathan Nagle, who sat on the other side of Reece, wanted to know what we were doing. Even that freaky girl with the disgusting skin condition stopped to see what we were doing. Talk about a disease project!

That girl really creeps me out. It's not just her skin...she's weird! She doesn't ever say anything. If a teacher calls on her in class, she'll just sit there and stare back at them. She won't even get up and do a math problem on the board. But here she was hanging over my shoulder like it was any of her business what we were looking at.

"Keep moving, Freak," I said. Would you believe she stuck her tongue out at me? Real mature.

"Whose website is this?" Reece asked.


Excerpted from The Truth about Truman School by Dori Hillestad Butler. Copyright © 2008 Dori Hillestad Butler. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Truth about Truman School 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
moises-lover More than 1 year ago
the truth about truman was short and you knew exactly what was going to happen but....... i learned a lot from this book. the first thing that i learned is that well it takes some time before you know exactly who you are on the inside. another thing is that you need to know who your true friendsa re and trust them when they tell you something that you question about something or someone. so really it takes in a lot of meaning to me but maybe not to everyone else but i think it will so you should read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great for tweenagers
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Disenchanted with the censorship of their school paper, Zebby resigns as editor. Complaining to her best friend, Amr, the two decide to create a web page. If the school paper won't print the hard-hitting articles that Zebby wants written, then they will create an Internet paper.

And so, is born.

They soon realize that unless the popular kids start talking about it, no one will bother with the web site. So with some creativity, Zebby gets the ball rolling, and before too long, they have over 400 hits to the site. And people are posting, as well. Zebby and Amr want the site to be truthful and allow anyone to post and add to it.

When a vicious poll, "Who is the biggest poseur?" is posted, Zebby and Amr debate about removing it, but instead, decide to leave it up. Little do the two realize that one simple poll will create a snowball effect.

Lilly, one of the most popular girls in school, becomes the target of the cyber-bullying. Though some of the information is true, most is false, but the kids at school start to believe it. Soon, Zebby and Amr are fighting with each other, accusing the other of being the perpetrator.

When Lilly disappears, everything comes crashing down. The police are called in, and the web site is revealed.

THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMAN SCHOOL is a scary look at how cyber-bullying can occur. News reports make it all too clear that such things can happen in real life. By reading THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMAN SCHOOL, it's easy to see how one simple web site can hurt an innocent person. The story makes the reader realize that anyone can be hurt, even if the information is false.