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Book Review: Rogue by Lyn Miller- Lachmann

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Rogue by Lyn Milller-LachmannPlot Summary (Taken from Goodreads): Kiara has Asperger’s syndrome, and it’s hard for her to make friends. So whenever her world doesn’t make sense—which is often—she relies on Mr. Internet for answers. But there are some questions he can’t answer, like why she always gets into trouble, and how do kids with Asperger’s syndrome make friends? Kiara has a difficult time with other kids. They taunt her and she fights back. Now she’s been kicked out of school. She wishes she could be like her hero Rogue—a misunderstood X-Men mutant who used to hurt anyone she touched until she learned how to control her special power.

When Chad moves in across the street, Kiara hopes that, for once, she’ll be able to make friendship stick. When she learns his secret, she’s so determined to keep Chad as a friend that she agrees not to tell. But being a true friend is more complicated than Mr. Internet could ever explain, and it might be just the thing that leads Kiara to find her own special power.

My Review:

One of the best things about this book are its characters. Kiara is a protagonist worth caring about because she is more than just a person with a disability. Chad, Kiara’s potential friend, is like an onion. You gradually learn to sympathize with him as you learn more about him.  When it comes to the supporting characters, they were well-done because they gave a spark to Kiara’s personality and life. It was creative how the author gave some of the characters traits that were similar to some of the X-Men.

Another thing that was interesting was the treatment of Asperger’s syndrome, broken families, drugs and alcohol, and friendship. The author did a good job of informing outsiders about Asperger’s syndrome. Although the author has it herself, she portrayed it fairly by showing how it affects the person who has it and people around the person who has it.

In addition, Lachmann weaved in other issues into the story well. It realistically shows how complicated life can be for young people. The only downside was that linking a couple of these issues to one of the characters created a too ambiguous ending for that character.

All in all, this was a great book. Anyone who works with young people with disabilities should read this. Due to the drug and alcohol content, I also recommend that only upper-level middle school students and above read this book.

Related Book Review:

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Written by Serena Zola

September 13, 2013 at 11:55 AM

Movie Review: Bully (2012 Documentary)

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Source: Wikipedia
Rating: PG-13

Plot Summary:  Kelby Johnson is an openly gay girl ostracized for her sexual orientation. Ja’Meya Jackson is suffering the consequences of pulling out a loaded gun to scare her peers . Alex Libby is socially awkward and pays for it verbally and physically. Parents Kirk and Laura Smalley and Tina and David Long are picking up the pieces after the suicides of their children. Although all of these people are in different states, they all share one painful thing: bullying.

My Review: One of the best things about this documentary is how realistically it captures bullying from the victim’s point of view. The victims are a diverse group of people who represent different circumstances. Also, it was good to see how the people around the victims reacted to what was going on. By sharing the voices of those around victims of bullying, it shows how bullying can affect an entire community rather than just one person.

Another thing the film does well is capturing the reactions of officials who are supposed to assist students and parents dealing with bullying. One particular scene involves Alex’s assistant principal dealing with a victim and a bully in the hall. While these two students aren’t the main characters of the film, the interaction between them and the assistant principal is shocking. Every scene like this challenges the viewer mentally and emotionally.

While the film makes a great attempt to capture bullying on film, there were a few flaws. One flaw is that the viewer never sees things from the bully’s point of view. Even though it is extremely important that bullying have their stories told, excluding the bully’s point of view makes the film bias. Also,  the film makes the connection between bullying and suicide too simple. It is possible that other factors could have led to the suicides depicted and the film should have reflected that. Together, both of these flaws cause the film to scratch the surface of bullying instead of providing a deeper view.

In addition, the film could have done a better job showing the aftermath of the young main characters. Kelby’s aftermath was fine, but there should have been more to Alex’s and Ja’Meyah’s. If a young person experiencing bullying saw this film, then they might feel lost at the end. it should have shown how to survive bullying without hurting yourself or others.

Despite the film’s flaws, the film is a powerful view of bullying. I recommend it to anyone involved with children and anyone experiencing bullying.

Written by Serena Zola

August 12, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Op-Ed: The Quirks of Being An Outsider

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A couple of years ago, I read a book called The Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth by Alexandra Robbins. The book discusses high school popularity and the quirk theory. The quirk theory states that the traits causes you to be excluded in high school are things that people will value in adulthood and outside of school.

I read this book feeling comforted because I was one of those excluded teens in high school. However, I was also skeptical. After all, how could I experience the quirk theory while attending a community college? Not only were there no clubs, but commuting  made college seem more like high school (minus bullying and racial cliques).

This summer, I will be starting classes at a four-year college and I’ve reread The Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth, hoping that the quirk theory would be proven this time around. However, looking back on my community college experience, I realize that the quirk theory has already appeared in my life.

According to Robbins, the quirk theory has many traits. Here are the ones that have been validated for me in community college and outside it:

Curiosity, Love of Learning– I took an American Lit. course in 2011 that changed me as a student, poet, and person.  I’ll call the instructor of that course Professor X. In that course, we were going to study part of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself”. I read the entire poem beforehand using a book from the library. I’d been writing free verse poetry since 8th grade and studying a very long poem like “Song of Myself” fascinated me. What was the big deal about it?  And so, I read the poem and subsequently fell in love with it.

When the time came to study it, I was excited! I remember exclaiming, “Ooh, it’s Song of Myself!” before we read it as a class. One girl looked at me like I was weird, but Professor X grinned widely. One year later, my love of studying poetry and literature earned me a student editor position for the campus art and literature magazine.

Creativity, Originality- During the fall of 2010, I got a poem published in the campus newspaper.

Passion- I started this blog in the fall of 2011 for myself and to inform others about the things I enjoyed and disliked so much. I expected only a dozen followers and ended up getting much more.

Resilience-  The fact that I made it to community college gives me a reason to be proud of myself. I survived the bullying and exclusion I experienced high school and have used what I’ve been through as inspiration for short stories and poetry. I’ve also been raising awareness about the impact of bullying through youth op-eds on this blog.

Authenticity, Self Awareness- I’ve said before that I never changed who I was in high school despite what I went through. I’m happy that I’m still myself today, even if I come across people who think I’m weird or too whatever. It is because I’ve stayed true to myself that I’ve had the other quirk theory traits admired.

I’m not going to say “it gets better.” To me, this statement implies that your entire life will always be full of happiness after high school. In fact, I’ve had to fight depression in community college. Although I’ve beaten it, I haven’t completely accepted myself yet. However, I’m still here and I’m slowly working toward my inner peace.

Instead of saying “It gets better”, I’m going to say, “It will be okay.” It may take some time to be that way. If you keep being yourself and be willing to live and share yourself with others, then you can make it.

Here is a song that keeps me strong; I hope it and my personal testimony can help others do the same.

Written by Serena Zola

May 16, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Bullying and Me: The Full Story

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Authoress Note:  There will be some profanity on this post. It is not because I enjoy cursing, but because the people around me involved in my experiences do.  Also, names have been changed to protect identity.


  Kids will be kids.

Words are just words.

Just ignore it.

Not everyone is going to like you.

These are a few things that I’ve heard to excuse bullying when I was being bullied as well as today when bullying is brought up in the news. As if  bullying is dust can be brushed away. It is not that easy.  I’ve mentioned my experience being bullied before on previous youth op-eds, saying that I got called “ugly” and “retard” for making good grades. That is not even the half of it.

My bullying experience started one day during lunch in 10th grade. I was almost finished eating when a girl’s voice called my name. I turned to see Nadia and her friend Nikki staring at me.

“Give me some candy!” Nadia snarled.

Turning back to my food, I said in a calm, firm voice, “No.”

“Ugly ass.” Nadia hissed as Nikki giggled. Throughout 10th and 11th grade, Nadia and Nikki were my enemies and they took the time to tease me whenever they felt like it. It sucked because they were in three of my six classes that I had.

In addition to Nadia and Nikki,  I had boys and girls who teased me in Literature & Composition class in 10th and 11th grade. They made fun of me because I liked reading and made good grades. It really hurt me because it was my favorite subject  and enjoying it subject was just a part of who I was.

Another thing that stung was that none of my classmates who were bystanders stood up for me. They probably didn’t want to be bullied themselves, but their inaction felt just as bad as getting teased.

When you have some people tease you and nobody sticks up for you, you end up thinking that no one cares about you.

I wanted to scream “You don’t know me!” at the jerks. Yet, I couldn’t. Any huge disruption in the class resulted in my teacher giving everybody essays. Sometimes, we got two or three in one class period. Despite what my classmates thought, I hated doing them.

All the bullies mentioned have one thing in common: they were black. It is not cool for black kids to be smart. If you really get noticed for it like I did, then you’re in trouble. In middle and high school, it isn’t cool for anyone to get noticed for being smart. Yet,  for young minorities, it is considered taboo because they aren’t portrayed as smart in society that often. Just look at television and the news  if you don’t believe me.

Looking back, I probably wouldn’t have been so affected by bullying if I hadn’t been so insecure before the bullying started. Since 9th grade, I was extremely aware of how different I was from other black girls. Instead of shopping, I enjoyed playing video games. Instead of listening to rap and R & B, I enjoyed alternative rock and soundtrack music.  Instead of watching BET, I enjoyed watching cartoons  from Japan.

I had a hard time making friends, especially with other girls. Before the bullying started, I’d managed to make one new friend that was female and different like I was. However, the bullying still hurt me  because I felt like an outsider among my own race. You see, the friend I’d made wasn’t black; she was a Mexican girl named Rose.

I didn’t tell any adults about being bullied because I’d figured no one would understand. Most teachers wanted to leave disruptions outside the classroom and focus on learning. My parents were a slightly different story. My mother wanted me to tell her so she could talk to the teacher. My father told me how he was bullied and how he became strong.

I didn’t want the bullying to go away. In fact, I knew it wouldn’t go away even if I had told someone, because one bully is easily replaced by another.

I only wanted to know that it was okay to be different, that it was okay to be myself. I also wanted to know that it was possible for some people who don’t know me to accept me.

In order to become strong in the face of bullying, you need a good foundation of self-esteem. That foundation should be made by the parents from the very moment a child is born. My mother, as good as she can be, had been making me feel like I wasn’t good enough.  My father did his best to empathize with me, but his praise wasn’t enough.

While I felt smart at school, I felt like a stupid failure at home. To compensate for the approval I didn’t get at home, I worked harder than I usually did at school. I had always made the honor roll at the end of the semester, but now I wanted to make an A or B throughout the semester on everything.

The combination of bullying at school and emotional stress at home started to make me depressed in 10th grade. The following year, it felt like I was being bullied more often because of the pressure teachers were putting on students to pass the graduation tests. My school and many others needed to make a successful academic yearly performance in order for the county to keep its accreditation. As a result of the added pressure, I became even more depressed and hated the school’s guts. Were we just tools to be used to make the school look good?

The cracks in my resilience came the night before I turned sixteen. My mother told me goodnight and that I couldn’t do anything right even though I was sixteen. The following day after school, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to die. If I was nothing more than a freak at school and a failure at home, then what was the point of living anymore?

I spent the rest of that year trying very hard to answer that question with hope. It was a blur of depression and suicidal thoughts like me jumping off a freeway pass. I hadn’t written anything since my sixteen birthday. To cease writing when it had given me freedom to express myself  was a  sign that I had truly given up on life.

I had decided to kill myself on New Year’s Day so I could truly experience the feeling of a new beginning. Only problem was, I didn’t know how. I had been spending the holidays at my sister’s apartment so I was unfamiliar with what could be used to end my life. I wanted to jump of the roof of the building, but didn’t know how to get there.

Then I realized I had a headache from thinking too hard and a very small voice told me how it would suck to kill myself and make my family sad. Therefore, I told my sister and my mother about my feelings. I still didn’t want to live, but I didn’t want to make people sad either.

My sister empathized with me somewhat, but  my mother couldn’t. She had tried changing the way she communicated with me for a day or so, but soon fell back into her old habits. I was still depressed, but because I cared about making my family happy, I trudged on. Then, something happened that brought my spirit back to life a little more.

During a Spanish class in my junior year, a loud argument had broken out between Nadia and another boy named Kerry. It had caught the attention of the entire class. I never found out why they were arguing because Kerry’s next words had me stunned.

“DUCK ASS HOE!” he screamed at Nadia over and over.

She stared down at her desk forlorn, looking the same way I felt when I got bullied. Kerry noticed her expression and said cruelly, “Yeah, go ahead and cry!”

At that point, my teacher intervened and kicked Kerry out. I hadn’t stood up for Nadia  because I didn’t know what to say. I was still staring at her, feeling a mixture of pity and confusion. I’d hadn’t considered her or my other bullies human until that moment. Why was this happening to me and Nadia?

Obviously, I couldn’t ask Nadia that. She may have gone from being the bully to being a victim, but she still didn’t like me. In fact, I divined that she had been bullied before she ever met me. Therefore, she probably felt as mistrustful as I did when I was being bullied.

To find answers, I started reading our city’s teen newspaper. The newspaper featured news stories, personal essays, and artwork from inner city teens. I wanted to see if there were stories on bullying that were similar to mine or Nadia’s.

There were two that caught my attention. One story was by a girl who had been bullied since grade school and started dressing provocatively and using profanity in high school so no one would tease her. It worked, but she didn’t like the way she had no self-respect. Eventually, she started being herself again and found new friends who assist her in raising her self-esteem.

The other story was by an intelligent black boy who wished that more of his black peers would reach their full potential. He explains how his classmates would tease him about using SAT level words and how ignorant and degrading they were being by dressing in hip-hop styles and addressing each other with profanity.

Just then a soft, teenage boy’s voice in my head created an epiphany. It said, “Things are rough all over.”

The voice belonged to Ponyboy Curtis, the main character of the classic coming-of-age book The Outsiders. I’d been in love with that book since I’d first read it in middle school, but I never realized how much it applied to my life until the Spanish class incident. Like Ponyboy, I had a huge lesson to learn about people.

My bullies were just people who wanted to be accepted just as much as I did. They were doing a bad thing for a good reason because they saw no other alternative. They expect little of themselves, because other people do. In order to stand up for themselves and make themselves feel better, they turned to bullying.

Upon realizing this, I forgave my bullies and vowed to hone my writing skills so that I could creatively and realistically tell my side of things. I still had other demons to fight off and they would eventually break me again in college. However, I took some pride in knowing that I had survived bullying.

Since I graduated from high school, I have read many tragic stories involving bullying. In fact, it seems almost every week I hear of a bullycide (i.e. suicide due to bullying) via the blog Ronkempmusic. Some of kids were bullied even worse than I was, because I was NEVER cyberbullied. Nonetheless, I’ve struggled for many years trying to find the perfect words to explain my feelings.

The truth is no one is perfect.  We all make mistakes, some bigger than others. No one is ever all good or all bad. It is not right for bullies to torment others, but it is also not right to label bullies as monsters as I once did.

Furthermore, it is important for bystanders to try to do something if they witness bullying. Even in my stunned state, I could have yelled, “Shut up!” when Nadia was getting teased. It would have been awkward, but it might have been life saving too. After all, Nadia could have been pushed over the edge like I was and killed herself, leaving me  feeling guilty and still confused.

Thankfully, I saw Nadia again my senior year. She transferred out of a class I was in, it seems she still didn’t like me, but that was fine. At least, it provided closure; I was never bullied again by anyone.

I end my story with one last lesson for those being bullied. Throughout my torment, I never ceased being myself. I kept reading,  making good grades, and doing whatever made me happy. It annoyed the heck of my tormentors, but it was sweet revenge sometimes.

In the words of  The Outsiders’ author S.E. Hinton, “Stay gold.” You may get dented emotionally for being yourself, but don’t let who you are get eaten away. Stay gold.

Written by Serena Zola

March 5, 2013 at 1:34 PM

Posted in Youth Op-Eds

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