Sticks and Stones Book Review by ChristineMM


Title: Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy

Author: Emily Brazelon

Genre: Nonfiction

Publication: Random House, 2013

Summary Statement: Bottom Line: Teen's Social Lives Are Complicated - No Simple Explantion or Fix to Bullying

As a parent of teen boys and a mother who has always been interested in the cause of bullying and wishing for easy solutions to end it, I was curious what Brazelon had to say on the subject.

Brazelon's writing style drew me in, weaving stories with facts and ideas then back to the teen's stories, using storytelling techniques made for more entertaining and engaging reading than the typical dry professional nonfiction book. Centering on a few teen's stories rather than speaking in vague abstracts was a way to help the reader realize that the social lives of teens is a complicated mess. She explains what bullying is and how nowadays the word bullying is overused, misused and abused. However a bigger challenge is perception; what one teen thinks is ineffective jabbing the victim may perceive as terrible bullying abuse.

In a utopia there would be no bullying and everyone would have high levels of tolerance for everyone else, everything from their looks to their ethnicity to their sexual orientation. That is not the world we live in though. Brazelon shows here that adults are guilty of thinking that the gay effeminate flamboyant teen boy asked for trouble by wearing makeup, as if being gay had not already made him enough of a target. If adults whose careers revolve around educating and protecting students while they have charge of them choose to not use tolerance or to make bad decisions that hurt students, how can we expect children and teens to all agree on what decent treatment of each other is and to actually do the best thing in every single communication and interaction in school, on the bus, and on social media?

I appreciated the exploration of mental illness and its impact on bullying. Should the bully be blamed for a suicide if the suicidal tendencies and attempts were made before the teen even lived in the same country as their accused perpetrator?

Another topic explored is the over-simplification of bullying stories done by both the media and the lawyers in the courts. People of all types have an agenda to push and sometimes they skew information, hide the full story, or exaggerate as a means to an end.

Brazelon also explores the world of cyberbullying and how online social media is much more invasive and unforgiving compared to regular old face to face bullying as done in the previous generation. She asks good questions about the role of the parent and the role of the school in policing and monitoring social media communications.

I applaud Brazelon's attempt to analyze this complex situation and to try to suggest a solution. She does give two examples of anti-bullying programs that have had various degrees of success. We should not be surprised to learn that the programs are only as effective as the adults who administer them. Laziness or slacking efforts will not show effective results.

The best message in this book is that social lives are complicated and that people do have different ideas about what is right and wrong. This includes the notion that a victim may "have it coming". As long as there are different cultural and religious beliefs there will always be judgment and peer to peer attempts to get the outlier to step back into the perceived norm.

I rate this book 4 stars = I Like It because there were some spots of boredom and I don't agree with everything she said, and I'm not as hopeful as she seems to be that an end to bullying nationwide will ever happen. It's been happening for thousands of years and it takes a lot to stop it. A program in school is not enough because kids live in a real world where they interact with others who may not be at their school, kids who are Scouts and do a sport or dance or take music lessons or see their cousins or (fill in the blank). Brazelon puts too much emphasis on schools being the cure-all. For one thing, it is hard for a kid to go against their own parents, where an empathy promoting anti-bullying campaign can fail is when it clashes against the kid's own family's religion or cultural beliefs.

Disclosure: I received an advance reader's copy of this book from's Vine program for the purpose of reviewing it on their website. I was under no obligation to review it favorably or to blog it. I was not paid for this.
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