by John David Anderson
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars
“Frost” and his friends at Branton Middle School have found themselves in the middle of a war. When the online bullying gets out of hand, the school bans phones and the kids start sticking post-its to each others’ lockers. The first one just happened to be stuck by Frost’s friend Deedee, but the last – and worst – was against their other friend Wolf, and former friend Bench was involved. Add in the arrival of Rose Holland, a bullying target and the first girl in their friend group, and you have a rich novel about bullying and male friendship. Wolf’s parents are going through a divorce, and Frost’s parents did before the book starts. Wolf tries to reach out to Frost but gets shut down. But when Rose bikes the Gauntlet – a steep hill with trees and rocks that no one makes it out of unscathed – to defend Wolf, it teaches all the boys about the nature of friendship and how to navigate their changing social world.
Anderson has a writing style that favors what I would call extreme foreshadowing. You know for pages and pages, several times, that something big has happened before he gets around to revealing what it was. When used sparingly, this is incredibly effective for pacing, but it’s overused in this story. Even so, I have to say, I found this one riveting pace-wise, even if not subject-wise. What I loved most was the author’s comments about cyberbullying at the end of his acknowledgements, and I’m sad that it got buried there (who besides me reads the acknowledgements?!). However, within the narrative, there is plenty of good prose about the struggles that tweens face, online and off, in their relationships. It really gave me pause to think about whether my pre-internet generation had it better or not, because the kids in the story do go back to passing notes and continue shoving each other in the halls, trapping each other in bathrooms and giving swirlies, and other antiquated forms of middle school torture.