Anderson does it again!
John David Anderson nails middle school relationships and interactions truthfully and poignantly in his second novel Posted. The struggles to find your place, your identity, your true self, amidst the turmoil of how truly cruel kids can be, is a tough job and one that most will keep to themselves – parents and teachers are not told. As I got deeper and deeper into Anderson’s newest novel, I was literally brought back to my own 8th grade year, . . . the year my “friends” decided I was no longer part of their group and I was ostracized and not invited to any of the outside weekend activities organized by my former crowd. Just like that - I was out - and I had no idea why or what I did to warrant such treatment. It was a miserable year and I think everyone who has ever attend middle, or in my case, junior high school, will be able to identify with this superb novel.
As this story opens we meet four friends, Frost, DeeDee, Bench & Wolf, who have formed their own tribe and try to cover themselves with a cloak of invisibility, especially in the dreaded lunchroom. We all probably remember, where you sit and whom you sit with, make all the difference in the social status created by the middle school population. And don’t think you can just sit down with anyone – there is territory in a middle school cafeteria and lines that can never be crossed.
Frost, our narrator, nicknamed for Robert Frost after winning a poetry contest in 5th grade, feels safety in the four points that make up their invisible square of indifference and unity at their lunch table. Everything is tolerable, at least until a new student crashes their table, a girl no less, a girl named Rose Holland, who is like no girl they have ever met – not that they have met or talked to any. Rose is loud, brash, friendly and physically a very tall, big girl whose physique has led to many unpleasant nicknames including Moose. Rose Holland reminds me a bit of Star girl by Jerry Spinelli, fearlessly marching to her own drummer.
When phones are banned in school, students are lost without their social media accounts that cannot be accessed and used during school. But just as time is eternal, kids will always find a way and these kids are no different. Pretty soon post-it notes start slowly popping up on lockers, bathroom stalls, gym walls, more and more each day. Many are trite or kind but as I’m sure you are already inferring, many turned ugly and mean.
The student population soon realizes the old aphorism, Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me, is just not true. As we build up to the climax of this story (and make sure you are ready to read the last third of the book straight through in one sitting as you won’t be able to stop) we witness the blood that words can draw.
Anderson is a master of character development. We know and sympathize with these kids and I bet everyone who reads this book will identify with at least one of these characters or will immediately remember students in their classes like these five. The first time I ever heard about “finding your tribe” was when speaking with the very talented E. B. Lewis at an NCTE conference in Boston. He said no matter what, kids would find their “tribe”, the people who accept them. This can be a good thing or a bad thing – depending on your tribe, but you will find it. As we all remember from tough experiences, your tribe may change – members drop out or are added – a lesson our kids learn the hard way.
This is an important book. Bullying and making fun of others has always been around but today, with the advent of social media, there are many more opportunities to antagonize – even outside of school.
Words are weapons and can be just as deadly.