You Can't Sit With Us: An Honest Look at Bullying from the Victim (Mean Girl Makeover) - Nancy N. Rue

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. You Can’t Sit With Us, the second book in the series, tells the story of Ginger Hollingberry, a new sixth grader at Gold Country Middle School. Ginger has been the brunt of teasing and taunting from the queen bee of GCMS, Kylie Steppe, and her so-called Wolf Pack. Kylie and the Pack favor a new and especially hurtful medium of taunting: social networking. What follows is a candid look into the growing world of cruel cyberbullying, showing kids that bullying doesn’t always end at school—it can now follow you even into your home and torture 24 hours a day.

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The second book in the Mean Girl Makeover series picks up roughly a few weeks after where the first book left off, I believe. All the students at GCMS have been strongly encouraged to sign an anti-bullying pact that states that not only will they not participate in bullying, but they will immediately report any incidents of it that they witness. This story illustrates that just because someone agrees to sign something, it doesn't mean they'll necessarily live up to it. As Ginger (our bullied redhead from Book 1) comes to find out. Popular girl and big time bully Kylie doesn't stop her reign of terror, she merely changes tactics.

 

This book delves more into the life of Ginger, a life we only got glimpses of in the first book of the trilogy {and hey, we get to find out that Ginger is a HUGE Tolkien / LOTR fan! Something she keeps to herself because she finds anytime she mentions it to classmates she's trying to befriend, it seems to open her up for more ridicule. School days are brutal, man!}. This one gets into the backstory of what happened to Ginger's mom and how that affected the rest of the family. Kylie tries to do the nice girl act on Ginger, temporarily winning her trust, convincing Ginger that the past was the past and Kylie really wanted to try to be friends now. NOT! In a moment of weakness, Ginger divulges some pretty personal family information that Kylie immediately mentally pockets for future blackmailing. She later switches back into evil Kylie and tells Ginger that if she doesn't stop hanging out with Tori and the gang from Book 1 (now Ginger's first real circle of besties), Kylie will blast Ginger's personal family secrets all over school.

 

This book struck me as a little bit darker in tone and a little edgier than Book 1, maybe because we see directly into the victim's life rather than from the bystander's POV, as in the first book. Kylie's methods of bullying now branch out into cyber-bullying via Twitter and email hacking, Kylie sending horrible emails to Ginger's friends and family, in Ginger's name. By the climax of the story, the bullying has gotten so bad that Kylie does actually physically endanger the life of Ginger, and then tries to pin it on Ginger's best friend Tori, the main character introduced in Book 1. Keep in mind that these kids are still supposed to be middle-grade age! This story also illustrates just how far reaching the actions of one bully can spread as Kylie's behavior and attacks on Ginger also start to really affect the lives of Ginger's father and little brother. 

 

Lydia returns in this installment, coming back to teach Ginger more methods of fighting back against Kylie, without stooping to her level. Lydia teaches Ginger how to "stone face" people, a tactic I've implemented myself my entire life and can attest to its effectiveness! It's where you just let people say whatever stupid crap they're going to say and you make your face completely free of reaction, immovable like stone. Irks them to no end! Lydia also teaches Ginger that sometimes we can be our own worse bully, berating ourselves with hateful words we know aren't true but we feel we deserve (SO true for me!). I really loved the exercise Lydia puts Ginger through where she has Ginger write on sticky notes every name or label she's heard people call her. Lydia sticks the notes to Ginger's body and says "These are names people stick ON you, they have nothing to do with the person underneath. These can come off any time you want." I admit, even as an adult, I choked up at that a little!

 

Ginger also implements the use of notebooks. She starts one she labels "Things I Decided Not To Say" where she writes down all the barbs that one wants to say in those situations but we really know usually tends to make things worse. I just cracked up at this idea because I thought, while a really cool idea, the notebooks I would have in my life! The fortress I could make from just those notebooks! LOL.

 

Ginger's love of Lord of the Rings ends up playing an important role in her story. She ends up meeting Mr. Devon (my favorite character in this story), the new librarian at GCMS, whom she immediately notices looks like Gandalf! Mr. Devon is just all kinds of cool and I loved their first meeting banter when Ginger points out that he is "a boy librarian" and he replies "and you are a girl scholar", as if to say "see how silly stereotypes sound when we make a thing about it?". Loved it! My favorite line though is when Mr. Devon asks Ginger to write a paper explaining why she loves The Lord Of The Rings so much and when she asks how long it should be, he answers "No longer than the series itself."

 

It is through Mr. Devon that Ginger meets a boy in her school who is a fellow LOTR fan and together they come up with a presentation for the school fair to illustrate how LOTR ties in with the topic of bullying and adversity, even writing a modern day re-telling of LOTR, featuring "Samantha" and "Frank" (Samwise or "Sam" and Frodo ). (Sidenote: I also thought it was pretty cool that Rue, in her author's note, mentions that she read the entire series for the first time right before writing this book).

 

I was pulled into this book so much more so than the first book, maybe because I saw so many similarities in Ginger's story to my own experiences -- being a redheaded book nerd, rocking the uncool clothes, trying to master my stone face. Yes, definitely recommend this series to anyone who wants to expand their library of anti-bullying books. While it might not be quite as edgy as some of the more mature YA topics (for example, this book doesn't get into trigger topics like cutting or suicide), it's a good opener series to get the discussions rolling.

 

 

FYI for readers: Book 3 in this trilogy, Sorry I'm Not Sorry, which looks at the storyline from bully Kylie's POV (maybe explaining why she acts the way she does? maybe there's something in her personal life that triggers her behavior?) is due to be released April 28th of this year.