- The Truth about Truman School
The Truman Middle School newspaper is restricted to puff pieces and pablum, so eighth-graders Zebby and Amr decide to mount a completely uncensored website where anybody can tell the truth about their school. It's not long before an anonymous poster mounts a smear campaign against Lilly, a former friend of Zebby and Amr's who now runs with the popular crowd, by first revealing a photo of Lilly's formerly fat self, and then, when that doesn't destroy her, linking to a fake blog wherein "Lilly" outs herself as a lesbian. The story is a canny combination of accessible presentation and clever craftsmanship, with the ethics of the situation particularly charged by the fact that readers don't, for some time, know which of the various eighth-grade narrators is also speaking as "Anonymous," Lilly's persecutor, so nobody's entirely off the bully hook. Individual morality is credibly complex, with Zebby genuinely supporting principles that make her keep the website uncensored even as her bitterness about Lilly makes that decision the easy way out. The book is also sharply knowledgeable about inter-kid dynamics, ranging from Zebby and Amr's mutual suspicion to their sad understanding of the effects of the slurs against Lilly ("If there's one thing that makes people more nervous than Muslims," says Muslim Amr dryly, "it's people who are gay. . . . I don't think there's ever been a popular gay person in the history of middle school"). This is therefore considerably more than just a story about cyberbullying—it's about the fragile trust [End Page 376] of democracy (idealistic Zebby is truly disappointed that this mess is what results from letting the people speak as they choose), the selves we show when we can evade consequences, the way shared opinion can bolster and escalate inhumane views, and the way victim and victimizer can coexist in the same person. Butler manages to wrap all that up in an easy-to-read story with a tense and compelling plot; readers will be sucked right into the true-to-life drama, and they'll find plenty of fodder for thought about their own school's social dynamics.