“Crossing the Line: A Cautionary Bullying Tale”, by Alan Eisenberg, is a novel portraying an apocalyptic school bombing and shooting, something worse than anything that has happened yet, and it throws in the kitchen sink as to the compounding of consequences for people’s actions. The book starts with a screenplay-like depiction (labeled the Prologue) of the 911 call. The author’s Foreword warns that the book is intense.
It is set at a fictitious Lincoln High School in the fictitious town of Berryville, Kansas (there is a Berryton, and there is a Berryville VA), and traces the lives of several teenagers in forty chapters named after them (by first name – each kid has multiple chapters).
The final attack comprises shrapnel bombs in backpacks, detonated by cell phone, supplemented by rifle attack, all set up by a particularly disturbed kid who calls himself Anarchy and describes what he will do in a “manifesto” and blog with few visitors. The attack is stopped (before the cops can get there) by another kid, who had brought a handgun to campus to defend himself, so the conclusion does reinforce the NRA’s idea that the “only defense to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”, something we heard after Sandy Hook and Aurora. The attack is timed to happen at an assembly after a funeral for a girl, Jessie, who had committed suicide after bullying.
At this point, it’s well to note that Anarchy had been bullied for not living up to the expectations of others as a “man”. There is a hint that he may be transgender and even possibly less physically developed. The character Jessie is also “behind” other girls physically (breast size gets mentioned, almost the way Donald Trump talked about it in front of Billy Bush in October 2016), and her former friend Sandi now sees her as a drag. There are lines to the effect that she needs to be put in her place (I’ve used the word “right-sizing” for this idea). On page 150, Jessie is characterized as “an introverted know-it-all who spent all her time studying and had no interest in school or the people there.” The kids seem to believe that intrinsic worth is related to physical development (consistent with cis-gender) and want to see a world where everyone is put in some sort of well-ordered sequence by this norm. The word for it is “body fascism” – this time, in the heterosexual world. This is part of a world-view that seems to believe might is right, and survival of the fittest. This sounds almost like what Vladimir Putin (let alone Donald Trump) believes. It sounds like the heart of “alt-right” social values. In the mind of Anarchy, the only way to mean anything and get noticed is to counter-attack (and that doesn’t mean with chess pieces).
The kids develop an elaborate plan to bully Jessie on social media, setting up fake profiles, even hacking a friend’s router and making it appear that the activity came from a fake ip-address. Jessie is 15, so the end result would include statutory rape and distribution of child pornography, as well as contributing to delinquency f minors, all legal points that come up toward the end. Other family members have lives ruined and at least one teen winds up labeled a sex offender for life.
Worse, Anarchy gets his instructions for his weaponizing from the Internet. The book would sound like an argument for Donald Trump to shut down social media as a national security matter in addition to his travel bans. (I discussed that grim possibility in conjunction with citizen journalism before the election, but Trump’s activities on Twitter took a twist I didn’t expect.)
The consequences are so horrible that teachers pull Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” (many film versions – 1968 is the best) from circulation. At one point, Jessie says that Juliet should become “a cutter”. The book even speculates about what her last moment would be like, and it is not the usual NDE.
The text reads like a movie script. The writing style is simple and straightforward.
The obvious comparisons are Gus Van Sant’s film “Elephant” (2003, set in Portland OR, which I saw at the Avalon in Washington DC; one of the assailants is a likeable pianist and utters a chilling line about “picking off kids”. Another instructive comparison is the ABC miniseries “American Crime“, the second season, where Connor Jessup plays a bullied yet charismatic gay teen who finally retaliates and then takes his sentence.
With someone who behaves like Donald Trump now as president, how will kids learn any other values ot behave by?
The names of the three “parts” are descriptive: “Season of our Discontent” (Richard III”); “We know what we are but know not what we may be” (“Hamlet”); “Done ti Death by Slanderous Tongue” (“Much Ado About Nothing”). Indeed, this book is like a super tragedy, but most of the characters don’t have the redeeming qualities found in Shakespeare.
In ninth grade (1958), I got caught up in a counter-bullying incident after a student had an epilepsy episode in class. Very regrettable to this day. I guess I could have wound up at an alternative school but it blew over.
|Title, Subtitle:||“Crossing the Line: A Cautionary Bullying Tale”|
|Publication:||Bullying Recovery LLC; 343 pages, paper, 40 chapters, 3 parts (complimentary review copy sent to me)|
First picture: Campanile tower at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, my 2006 photo. I earned an M.A. in math there in 1968 (just before my own getting drafted).
(Posted: Thursday, March 9, 2017 at 5:15 PM)