Published: January 10, 2017
This is a horrific story of a group of seemingly heartless children following them from 8th grade through senior year. They live in Mill Valley, a wealthy city within Marin County. They are entitled, spoiled, and largely ignored by their parents. Through the use of social media they are also extremely dangerous. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a student or teacher. Even the teachers in this book are awful. They are trying to relive their high school years by relating and engaging with the children inappropriately. This is a book that disgusted and enraged me, but also scared me to death (as a mother). This books warns of the horrors of social media, how it betrays friendships, how people can be heartless and ruthless on social media with no regard to feelings and outcomes. It warns how children and adults can make very big mistakes online, how a small mistake in real life can be amplified by social media to social and emotional ruin.
This group of children in particular is savage. Social standing is everything. Relationships lack depth. Anyone can stab you in the back if it might earn you higher social standing. With all that these kids were going through and experiencing, they each seemed to be islands, lacking close friendships or supportive families. They did not share personal details of their lives with their friends, they did not confide in their friends. Their friends were there solely for the purpose of social standing. The children appear lost, unhappy, and in some cases were trying to become someone else rather than discover who they really were.
At it’s core this book is about bullying and I felt it was a cry that we as a society should be doing more to prevent it, to address it once it happens, and acknowledge that it will likely happen again. There are so many students that participated in the bullying and the bulk of it was done online where people can hide behind screens and become more heartless. How do we as a society, as communities, as school address the online lives of our children? How much freedom and independence do we give them versus close monitoring? What kind of limits should be imposed?
Towards the end of the novel, Molly is made to shut down her Facebook account by the school administration because of her over-involvement online with her students. “At least for a while, she’d reside in the land of the actual, where she might discover who her real friends were. Where she might discover herself.”
As hard as this was to read, I think there is an excellent message to this book. It asks a lot of questions and hopefully will get people thinking. The character development was excellent and I enjoyed reading and getting inside the heads of various different students and teachers. I thought it was an interesting twist that Ryan gets taken advantage of through social media at the end, however, it did seem a little far-fetched and out of character for him. My first inclination was to give this 3 stars, however I’m bumping it up to 4 because it brings up a lot of great discussion points. This would make for an excellent book club read.
Royal Blue Awareness Ribbon
Mill Valley, CA
located in Marin County
- Name all the victims of bullying within this book. In what ways were they bullied?
- Molly Nicoll had been a victim of bullying in high school. She thinks back that it was better not to be noticed than to be a target, which she became after a terrible haircut. How does this relate to other victims of bullying within this book?
- Discuss Doug Ellison and Abigail Cress’s relationship. Who has more to lose if people found out? Do you think Doug Ellison has had previous relationships with his students?
- Why does Calista relate to the line in “Great Gatsby” where Jordan Baker says to Nick, “I hate careless people.” Why is it that Calista hates careless people? Who does she consider careless?
- Calista tells Molly “Nothing ever goes back.” Does it seem like the rest of the school pretends that it does?
- Compare and contrast the social hierarchy among the students versus the teachers.
- Beth tells Molly “It’s only geography dear.” What is the meaning behind this statement?
- Why do you think Molly yearns to understand and become close to her students? Do you feel it is appropriate? Where is the line?
- Calista contemplates suicide. Why? Why is she so unhappy?
- How is Ryan ultimately taken advantage of towards the end of the book? Is this bullying?
- There is a recurring theme of people wanting to be different, of trying to reinvent themselves. Why do you think this is?
- Why do you think so much of the bullying happens online rather than face to face?
- What do you think could be done differently to prevent bullying?
- The students involved online were given a brief suspension for the bullying that led to Tristan’s suicide. Do you feel this sentence was adequate? What should the consequences be?
- What kind of monitoring should parents have over online correspondence of their children?