The Truth about Truman School by Dori Hillestad Butler

I read The Truth about Truman School by Dori Hillistad Butler as part of the Amazon Vine Program, so I can’t post my review here, but I am going to share some of my thoughts on the book.

Zebby and Amr work on the school newspaper, but the teachers never want them to write about anything real:  the new math curriculum making guinea pigs out of the students because no one knows whether it is going to be any better than the old curriculum, how the student council is really just a big popularity contest, and an article on bullying have all been rejected.  So Zebby and Amr decide to put together their own unofficial newspaper and do it online. They call their website “The Truth about Truman” and in the beginning they are the only contributors; but because they were so tired of being censored in school, they only post two rules for their site and let it be known that the writers won’t be censored.

In theory, no censorship works, but as Zebby, Amr and the rest of Truman School find out, it might not be the best thing for a school newspaper–even an unofficial one. A student known only as ‘milkandhoney’ posts an old portrait of one of the popular girls, Lilly, with the question, “Who is the biggest poser at our school?” and a poll. Lilly is horrified, as are the other popular girls, some of whom are also mentioned in the poll.

What started out as a place to share the truth about their school, quickly turns into a case of cyberbullying, where Zebby and Amr have lost control over what is posted at their site and many people’s lives are changed as a result.

Now, I have to admit to being sensitive to the issue of bullying.  I was picked on from the day I entered Grade 1 until I graduated from high school, and even in the affluent neighborhood where we live, bullying and picking on other children is an issue. We also had a young boy from the surrounding area commit suicide because he couldn’t take the bullying he was subjected to any longer. While things have changed since I’ve been out of school, some things–mostly negative ones–remain the same.

What Butler did with The Truth about Truman School  is show how easily making fun of others can lead to bullying and how its effects are felt not just by the person being picked on, but much of the school body, though some people will remain the same and it won’t motivate them toward change. What I felt was very insightful were the comments made by Trevor, a kid who had been subjected to bullying for a long time. He made these comments after the whole situation had blown up and the school addressed all that happened.

“I feel like a little kid who’s being made to write one hundred times, ‘I will not cyberbully anyone.’ What good is that going to do? Do teachers really think that by making us write a paper about it no one’s ever going to go online and say something mean about someone else ever again? They’re fooling themselves if that’s what they think!”

I agree with him, and as a parent I am scared and unsure what can be done. I applaud and support anti-bullying initiatives by our school districts, but I wonder if they will have the desired effect.  I feel for teachers and administrators in this instance because you do what you can, but in the end, it is still up to the individual to make that change.

The Truth about Truman School could go a long way in helping to support anti-bullying initiatives, and I believe every school in America should consider making it required middle school reading material and open the floor up for discussions.