Written by bestselling author, Nancy Rue, each book in the Mean Girl Makeover trilogy focuses on a different character’s point of view: the bully, the victim, and the bystander. Each girl has a different personality so that every reader can find a character she relates to. So Not Okay, the first book in the series, tells the story of Tori Taylor, a quiet sixth grader at Gold Country Middle School in Grass Valley, California. Tori knows to stay out of the way of Kylie, the queen bee of Gold Country Middle School. When an awkward new student named Ginger becomes Kylie's new target, Tori whispers a prayer of thanks that it’s not her. But as Kylie’s bullying of Ginger continues to build, Tori feels guilty and tries to be kind to Ginger. Pretty soon, the bullying line of fire directed toward Ginger starts deflecting onto Tori, who must decide if she and her friends can befriend Ginger and withstand Kylie’s taunts, or do nothing and resume their status quo. Tori’s decision dramatically changes her trajectory for the rest of the school year.
I found this to be an easy to read, relatable story that I'm sure will help many middle-grade age children feel more comfortable talking about bullying and how to effectively battle against it.
For a few years now, Tori and her group of friends have been the main target of popular girl Kylie and her clique. When new girl Ginger (real name Virginia Eve) transfers to Tori's school, at first Tori and her friends feel relief. Ginger proves to be so socially inept that it takes the heat off of Tori and her friends for a time. Ginger (and of course Rue makes the girl a redhead!) doesn't have the cool clothes, she eats pickle and PB sandwiches at lunch, she struggles to control her body odor and she tends to yell things as she's talking even when she doesn't mean to -- but the thing about Ginger is she still tries to make friends, she tries to put herself out there, even if she's bound to get shot down and have her heart broken.
Tori witnesses Ginger suffering bullying at the hands of Kylie and Co., thinks maybe she should help Ginger out. Tori's friends say "heck no! that'd just put the heat back on us!" so Tori goes along with what her friends want until she just can't stand the feelings of guilt anymore. Though it does put her and her friends back on Kylie's radar, Tori invites Ginger to join their circle, convinced she is doing what is right. Tori and the girls then learn how to combat bullying via Lydia, the assistant of Tori's father. Lydia has battled bullying all of her life because of her dwarfism, so she has a tip or two to teach them -- one rule being to become a "tribelet", finding strength in numbers and being able to divide and conquer the bullies when they aren't in a grouping of their own.
Suddenly she looked up and stared right at me. She was so still. I wondered if she had a pulse. Ophelia noticed the look too and whispered, "The Alpha Wolf is looking at you, Tori. That's weird."
It was really weird because Kylie hadn't shown any signs of noticing me since the first day of sixth grade when she started deciding who was cool and who wasn't. I wasn't. She couldn't prove it. I just wasn't.
Along with the tribelet lesson, there are many more that young readers can take away from this book to put into effect into their own school situations. Another element I really appreciated about this story was the fact that it addressed the reality that bullying can come from numerous different sources, sometimes that source being our closest friends. We don't want to think it's bullying when it's someone so close to us but it can happen. This story helps identify what different kinds of bullying can look like. I also liked that it got into pointing out how oblivious to the situation parents and teachers can be; how teachers can side with the popular kids just because the teachers too find the bullied kids "weird" and somehow justify their inaction with "the kid brought it on himself / herself by being weird"; how adults can still experience bullying in the workplace (case in point, Tori's dad's fears that he could lose a big contract -- which means a loss of much needed household income -- at work if he doesn't "play by the rules") and how even teachers themselves can be the bullies.
While I didn't find the plot in this first book particularly riveting, I do think it brings up a lot of good starter points for discussion. I've already read the second book and can tell you that it's worth it to try out this trilogy. As an adult, I found reading the second book, which is told from Ginger's POV, really brought to light a lot of commonalities between Ginger's story and my own school experiences, making it more impactful (at least to me) than the first book.
Rue definitely brings up a lot of important points to shed light on within the topic of bullying, so I highly recommend this trilogy as a strong starting point with your child.