New Beginnings by Rebecca Emin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One of the most pressing issues epidemic amongst our young ones today is bullying. Granted, kids left to their own devices will often pull towards a pecking order war like a pen of puppies dragging each other by the ears, but the trend in bullying these days has gone far beyond that. Tales of bullied children as young as eleven or twelve committing suicide over bullying are become so commonplace that headlines are losing their ability to shock us.
Now is a perfect times for fiction and film to deal with the issue, and Rebecca Emin's novel, "New Beginnings" confronts the issue gently, and thoroughly.
Sam Hendry is the eleven year old protagonist of this children's novel, and the premise is a familiar one: a young girl leaving her old life and arriving at a new school only to meet on her very first day a bully who takes an instant dislike to her. The bully in question is a fellow classmate of Sam's, a girl named Molly who begins by first taunting Sam, and then progressing to snide physical assaults. Sam endures this privately, fearfully, dreading each Monday morning when the new week would begin and a new day of dealing with Molly's baseless hatred.
Emin writes Sam's point of view without melodrama. Sam suffers, and bad things happen, but the book is not punctured at any point by acts of violence or trauma or operatic self pity so great that a reader feels as if it's unrealistic. Any young reader suffering a similar situation could easily identify with Sam as she goes about her day, making a small group of friends, hiding the bullying from her parents, yearning to get her own computer, and singing her heart out to her favorite CD's.
No magical fixes to her problems are offered, the lessons Sam learns in the story are lessons easily applied by any of the potential young readers of this book. Helpful solutions are introduced in the story, and are quite crucially applied as the levels of Molly's bullying begins to escalate to actual physical injury for Sam. The danger is real, but not so much as to make any of the young readers faint of heart.
There are many nice things in this story, Sam's ambitions to sing, her first crush, a surprising first kiss, all written with bright optimism and tenderness. For everything bad that happens to someone, there are still things to strive for, it's a comforting message and one very accessible to the reader.
If I have any snags with this story it would only be of the nitpicky nature, there is a bit of name brand dropping, and as a matter of personal taste I've never cared for that in a story. I also would have liked to have seen a bit more insight into Molly's motivations--but this story wasn't about her, it didn't need to be. In the end it's Sam Hendry's story, and a sweetly told one it is.
I was touched by it on a personal level with memories of being a shy kid at school, and of the daily anxiety associated with various worries. It's a very genuine story told by a very good writer, and a good one for any young reader to have in their library.
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