Recently, I heard a child psychologist say there are three parties to the bullying scenario: the bully, the victim, and the bystander. While the bully is beating up the victim, what are the bystanders doing, thinking, feeling? Children’s authors are asking these questions, too, and their books for kids offer great discussion opportunities for families, whether the families be a classroom "family" or a group of friends in middle school, or the traditional family eating dinner together.
SECRET SATURDAYS, by Torrey Maldonado, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2010.
Justin’s best friend Sean has started keeping secrets from him. What worries Justin the most is where Sean goes on certain Saturdays and why he lies about these times spent out of the neighborhood, one of the roughest neighborhoods in New York City. Justin begins to question what it means to be a friend.
Until now, the two sixth graders used words to settle problems, not fists. However, Justin notices that Sean’s words are becoming sharp weapons, much more hurtful than fists could ever be. This, too, worries Justin. Should he speak up? Or let it go? Move on? Or show Sean that friends don’t give up on each other?
The boys are strong characters, the neighborhood is real, and the every day conversation which will seem like another language to some, is authentic. The boys turn to rap to express their feelings and here their emotions spill over and win over the reader.
In this debut novel, the author, who grew up in the setting, credits his mother for encouragement, support, and the sacrifices she made to help her son succeed. This points up the huge importance of mothers in a neighborhood where fathers have gone missing for whatever reason. These single mothers work at low paying jobs and struggle to make rent and buy food. At the same time they have the burden of worry about where their kids are and whether they are preparing for class the next day or preparing to do time before they turn 16. The neighborhood is tough, and so is the life. The author is to be congratulated for being a role model.
Let’s hope SECRET SATURDAYS causes an outbreak of courage and compassion in middle schools everywhere.