StopBullying.gov defines bullying as "unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance." Bullying has been linked to a long list of suicides and school shootings, and can be responsible for failing grades, drug abuse and criminal activity. The potential negative impact is widely understood, and there's been a growing campaign to fight bullying both in America and worldwide.
With all of that coverage, and countless previous novels on the subject, why should I tackle bullying in "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain"? The answer relates to the fact that no kid would wish to simply define themselves as a bullying victim.
Down in the trenches, in the everyday life of most students, definitions, worst-case scenarios and dire consequences aren't on the mind of most kids enduring bullying.
As a boy, I remember seeing countless educational films in junior high school about life as a teenager, telling me about all the things that were happening/about to my emotions and my relationships to the people and world around me. I kept waiting for the stars to align and some sort of puberty checklist to appear.
It never did, and I kept wondering why I wasn't suffering all of the emotional turmoil I was promised. Did I somehow miss it? Was it still to come? I was mystified.
I was aware of the word "bully," but I never connected it with any situation in middle school. It seemed to be something that belonged to younger kids. In my mind, admitting to bullying meant admitting that I couldn't handle a particular situation. Conflicts with other kids didn't call for a special title that would make one person a victim, and the other a victimizer - or a bully and a bullied kid.
Like Alexander, I imagined everyday conflicts to be the firing rounds in an all-out war. Some kids became enemies and threats to my very existence on the basis of a simple argument.
"My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" is, in fact, an attempt to capture that unique moment in time - fairly common, I think - when a thirteen year old thinks he's got the world figured out - and then discovers that he's totally wrong. Thankfully, I wasn't quite as overwhelmed as Alexander, a boy who lives in a constant state of fear and readiness for disaster.
Fear rules his entire world, and he sees others simply as friends and allies, or enemies to be resisted or even fought. He thinks he's being bullied, but soon discovers that he's the bully.
"My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" isn't about simply about a boy being dominated by a bully; it's about a boy being ruled by fear.