Tag Archives: bullying

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  422

Published:  March 12, 2013

Format:  E-book

Awards:  Man Booker Prize Nominee (2013), Sunburst Award for Adult (2014), Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction (2013), National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee for Fiction (2013), The Kitschies for Red Tentacle (Novel) (2013), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2013), Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature for Adult Fiction (2013)

This is a beautiful novel that drew me in immediately.  A barnacle encrusted bag washes up on the shores of a quiet island off the coast of British Columbia to be found by Ruth.   Ruth is a character loosely based on the author herself.  Ruth and her husband have lived on the island for decades and never had children.  Her life’s work has been writing, and she is currently working on her autobiography, but she is also suffering memory lapses.  Inside the plastic bag is a diary of a 14 year old Japanese girl written in purple ink on the  pages of what on the outside one would expect to be  Proust’s  A la Recherché du Temps Perdu.  Also in the bag are a second diary written in French, and a watch.   Ruth’s husband, Oliver, immediately questions whether this could be jetsam or flotsam, part of the trash washed into the ocean after the giant tsunami struck Japan years earlier.

Nao, the author of the mysterious diary, states she is writing in these “last days of her life” to tell the story of her grandmother, Jiko.  She never gets to the actual biography of Jiko, but instead details the extreme bullying she has endured, her contemplations of suicide and the spiritual journey she undergoes with her grandmother to develop her own superpower.  Nao spent her younger growing up years in California, but when her father loses his high powered corporate job in Silicon Valley, the family moves back to Japan.  Nao had been living a middle class life, attending school with close friends and enjoying an active social life in California.  Suddenly, she is thrust back to a country whose culture and social norms she is unfamiliar and living with her parents, in a tiny one bedroom apartment.  Her mother initially spends her days staring at jellyfish in the aquarium.  Her father, a seemingly depressed caricature of his former self, is unsuccessful at finding a job and also at suicide.  He actually is arrested for failed suicide.   Nao, although Japanese, is seen as quite different for having grown up in California.  She is mercilessly bullied, both physically and  emotionally, by the students and teachers.

Interestingly, we learn Nao’s story as Ruth is reading it and interacting with it, seemingly affecting changes to the story by actions in her dreams.  In this way the two characters are very much linked in some seemingly real but magical way.  It almost seems like they become one character as the story is being read, two parts of a whole.  This effect is concurrent with the theme of time and Nao being a “time-being.”  Nao, which is pronounced “now,” likes to think of herself as existing in this moment.  The concept and fluency of time within this novel is a key theme.  The connectedness of beings across generations and continents is important.  This is part of the Buddhist philosophy that plays an integral role in the spiritual journey Nao undergoes as the diary unfolds in Ruth’s hands.

Nao’s life is certainly at a pivotal point as she contemplates suicide while sitting in a French cafe trying to avoid “dates” (being pimped out to customers).   However, Ruth also undergoes this spiritual journey alongside Nao.  She had cared for her mother who has recently died and feels like her life is slipping away.  She is contemplating leaving the sparsely populated island and moving to the city.  Reading Nao’s diary has Ruth pondering Buddhist philosophy and engaging in the connectedness of all things.

Nao tells of how she is sent to spend the summer with her grandmother Jiko.  She begins a soul searching journey as she gets to know her grandmother.  She practices zazen meditation, bath rituals, and tries to develop her superpower, because everyone needs a superpower.  She also begins recognizing the superpower in others, even eventually her father whom she viewed as a “freeter.”   Her father becomes an even greater hero, when he finds a new life’s purpose in developing a “mu mu” which will hide one’s past and present on the computer.

I loved the timelessness of this book and the Buddhist philosophy that is life changing for so many of the characters within this novel.  There is real darkness and depths of despair for the characters Nao and Haruki #2 that are overcome through a spiritual journey, where they learn appreciation of ancestors and each other.  They begin to appreciate the duality of all things.  I found it fascinating that the author wrote herself into this book as Ruth, connecting herself with these characters as well.  There are many layers and depths and truths contained within the lovely novel. I highly recommend it to everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Discuss the Japanese culture of bullying.  Compare and contrast this with bullying in the United States.  How does cyberbullying take bullying to a whole different level?
  2. Why do you think that Nao participates in bullying Daisuke?  Why do you think the teacher participates?
  3. Compare and contrast American and Japanese cultures in the areas of intensity of schooling, therapy, self improvement and bullying.
  4. Compare and contrast Haruki #1 and Nao.  Consider how they were bullied, their writing, and suicidal ideations.
  5. Haruki #2 wanted to know what defined conscience.  Discuss the reasons that led to the loss of his job.  In what ways are Haruki #1 and #2 similar?
  6. Explain what a “freeter”  is and who in this novel might be perceived as a “freeter?”
  7. How would you say time is defined in this novel?  What does it mean to be a time-being?
  8. What Buddhist philosophies did you agree with or appreciate?
  9. Jiko teaches Nao and guides her on a spiritual journey by teaching her daily practices and rituals.  How do you think these affect Nao?  Do you think Nao would have done better with some other form of therapy?
  10. What does the presence of the jungle crow represent to Ruth and Oliver?  What does it represent to you, the reader?
  11. There is a theme of global connectedness in this novel.  Discuss the ways in which countries and beings across continents are connected.  How does the internet affect this connectedness?
  12. There is also a theme about social and environmental connectedness on a global level.  Discuss the ways in which this was touched on within the novel.

 

 

New York Times Review by Leslie Downer

Ruth Ozeki’s website

Reader’s Guide  by Penguin Random House

 

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages: 288

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

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Name all the victims of bullying within this book.  In what ways were they bullied?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. Calista tells Molly “Nothing ever goes back.”  Does it seem like the rest of the school pretends that it does?
  6. Compare and contrast the social hierarchy among the students versus the teachers.
  7. Beth tells Molly “It’s only geography dear.”  What is the meaning behind this statement?
  8. Why do you think Molly yearns to understand and become close to her students?  Do you feel it is appropriate?  Where is the line?
  9. Calista contemplates suicide.  Why?  Why is she so unhappy?
  10. How is Ryan ultimately taken advantage of towards the end of the book?  Is this bullying?
  11. There is a recurring theme of people wanting to be different, of trying to reinvent themselves.  Why do you think this is?
  12. Why do you think so much of the bullying happens online rather than face to face?
  13. What do you think could be done differently to prevent bullying?
  14. 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?
  15. What kind of monitoring should parents have over online correspondence of their children?
  16. Did this book seem realistic to you?  Why or why not?

Lindsey Lee Johnson’s website

Review by Sarah Nyall in the New York Times

Review by Fellow Blogger Becky Renner

Review by fellow blogger “Mad Book Love”

The Book Reporter’s Review