My recommendation this week is Alt Ed by Catherine Adkins:
Alt Ed is a well conceived and fast pace story about the injustices of dealing with peers in high school. The main character Susan is an outcast because of her weight. Like so many teens, she feels alone. Sadly, I think Susan would prefer to be invisible, but her weight makes her a target for every cruel unthinking peer who uses ridicule as a shield against becoming the ridiculed. Her mother is dead, her father is the high school football coach, and her brother is semi-popular. So in addition to being alone at high school, she is also alone at home.
When Susan finally fights back against her worst enemy by trashing his truck, she is forced to endure group counseling sessions after school. Then to add insult to injury this same enemy is also a member of the group.
Atkins does a terrific job at creating a strong plot in order to discuss some of the horrible things peers and peer groups do to one another. The premise of the plot is that six teens must attend a group counseling session for a major infarction they have committed. The group consists of three boys and three girls, and within this mix you have the garden variety high school personalities: the jock the prom queen, the redneck, the punk rocker chick, the gay, and the over-weight Susan. The dynamics of this group are quickly revealed in their first meeting. Sparks fly and each teen’s personality is revealed to the reader, but Atkins also begins to unravel the stereotypical personality traits with each new meeting, almost like peeling an onion, the reader begins to see that there is a lot more to each of these kids than what appears on the surface. Atkins also shows how each of the six are interconnected, either by the crime they have committed, or by their individual fears, and bravado. Of the six, Susan’s character is the one the reader sympathizes with the most because it is through her eyes that we become part of this group, and I think Atkin’s message comes through very clearly because of her point of view. That message is that making judgments based on appearances is not only wrong but, almost always harmful and incorrect. For the reader we sympathize with Susan and get to know her not as her peers do, but through her heart. We also get to see how much each of the other members of the group’s have in common once the shields are peeled away.
As I mentioned, Atkin’s theme or message in this book comes through loud and clear, and I believe it is an important message for our youth today. All my life I have watched as people have struggled to over come all types of prejudices. As a teacher, a main goal for many years has been to teach tolerance. However, I have been seeing a steady increase (and this is not to say that this hasn’t always existed in schools) in bullying. Bullying is often based on an intolerance of races, however, much of the bullying I am referring to is centered at attacking those that don’t seem to fit the “norm” of the group. In Alt Ed, Atkins tries to dispel the myth of "normalcy” in school by showing how looking at the individual and making judgments based on one to one contact is the only real way to get to know someone and will certainly enhance our ability to understand ourselves and each other.