Over the last two months, I have been toying with the idea of building a new literature circle for my class based on the theme of identity. As I investigated texts, a second theme of bullying began to emerge in many of the books I have been previewing. Both themes combined have strong potential to engage my students, since they are so central to their own life. Thankfully there are some real stand out books that connect both topics masterfully. For instance, Posted, by John David Anderson, has some unique insights into the changing nature of identity in middle school and the power of words to hurt people.
Posted tells the story of Frost and his friends Deedee, Wolf, and Bench. When cell phones are banned at their school, students start communicating through sticky notes. Things quickly go awry as the notes turn nasty and bullying that has been lurking under the surface comes to light.
One thing Posted portrays accurately is the changing nature of friendship in middle school. Frost and his friends have been a tight knit group for years, but the addition of a new student throws things off. His clique starts to break apart and change. Frost is caught in the middle, as Bench stops sitting with them and seemingly betrays their trust. However, Bench has good reasons for switching cliques and Anderson effectively shows how identities can change and evolve during these formative years. Too often in middle years books, characters come across as cardboard, ferried along by the plot with limited inner life. The main characters in Posted are the opposite, coming across like real teens, who are adjusting to their changing social landscape.
One of the themes I appreciated most was the power of words. The correlations with social media was pretty clear, as the anonymous sticky note messages quickly brought out people's darker impulses. Eventually the friends manage to stand up against the bullies, to some avail. However, even the use of stickies in a grand symbolic gesture is not enough to erase the effects homophobic bullying. Words hurt and once they are unleashed, they cannot be easily taken back. The ending, while bittersweet, is necessary. Bullying is complicated, and I'm glad that Anderson showed this with some real consequences. It effectively illustrates the power of words for good or ill.