My name is Tate. He doesn't call me that, though. He would never refer to me so informally, if he referred to me at all. No, he'll barely even speak to me. But he still won't leave me alone.
We were best friends once. Then he turned on me and made it his mission to ruin my life. I've been humiliated, shut out, and gossiped about all through high school. His pranks and rumors got more sadistic as time wore on, and I made myself sick trying to stay out of his way. I even went to France for a year, just to avoid him.
But I'm done hiding from him now, and there's no way in hell I'll allow him to ruin my senior year. He might not have changed, but I have. It's time to fight back.
Growing up neighbours, Tate and Jared are the best of friends who get each other through the rough patches of life. They are kindred spirits; they are inseparable. Then the summer before freshman year Jared visits his father and comes back completely changed. Gone is the gentle boy who held Tate’s hand and snuck into her room for innocent sleepovers. He is replaced by a cold, hard, bully. Suddenly, out of the blue, with no explanation, he hates Tate… with a passion that terrifies her. Suddenly her best friend turns on her, and Jared makes it his personal mission to make Tate’s life a living hell.
Rumours and pranks follow Tate wherever she goes and suddenly she is a social pariah – no boys will date her, nobody will invite her to parties, and nobody will stick up for her when Jared moves in for the kill. For over two years Tate is crushed by Jared’s treatment of her, until eventually his bullying makes her physically ill and she convinces her father to let her study abroad for a year. Jared, of course, ensures that she leaves for France in tears.
When Tate returns for senior year, she is the changed one. She’s got spunk, she’s got confidence and is no longer hiding from Jared or cowering from his attacks – she’s fighting fire with fire. Unsettled by the new Tate, Jared can’t get his kicks from making her cry anymore. His old tactics don’t have any effect on her, and to get her to crack he must turn the pressure up… way up. Pulling out all the stops to prove that he can still make the tough girl cry, Jared finally goes too far and Tate realises she can’t do it anymore. She doesn’t like the person she has become in fighting Jared. “This is how bullies are made”. So Tate gives up – she gives up on fighting back, she gives up on trying to figure him out, she accepts the boy she once loved is gone and she just completely gives up on Jared. It is only then, when he can’t get any reaction out of Tate at all, when she tells him “You are nothing to me” that he realises he has finally lost a hold on the girl he secretly loves.
Jared finally makes the move to reconcile with Tate – but is it too late? Tate is fed up with Jared and his treatment of her and it will take a whole lot of explaining to make Tate understand why he turned on her; and even more to convince her that he truly loves her.
Bully by Penelope Douglas is quite different than any young adult novel I’ve read before. I liked Tate as a character. She’s independent and brave and refuses to let Jared keep her down. She’s a well-developed, multi-layered character and gets the reader behind her very early on. Jared, on the other hand, I had a harder time warming up to. Even after he explained why he turned on Tate I didn’t really get it. I can understand why he was hurt and upset, but it doesn’t justify the things he did to Tate. I get that the author tried to portray him as a misunderstood, wounded guy who lashed out at his best friend because he couldn’t hurt the people who had hurt him, but for me it fell flat. I get lashing out against your loved ones in a weak moment because you are hurt… but deliberately hurting the one person who loved you unconditionally for three years?! That’s not lashing out – that’s something else entirely.
There was a total lack of character development in Jared. It seemed like one day he just flipped a switch, deciding to be the nice guy Tate used to know, and there was a complete lack of development in this regard. Unfortunately the author never gave me enough reasons to fully like Jared's character, and his reconciliation with Tate left me unaffected. Because of Jared this was never I couple I found myself rooting for. I was rooting for Tate all the way, and while I was happy she was finally happy, Jared still left me cold. I do have sympathy for what he endured, but that does not magically excuse his horrid treatment of the girl he claims to love, for three years. He literally went out of his way to hurt and humiliate her time and time again. I'm sorry, but if you truly love someone you will never stoop this low.
I understood Tate’s forgiveness considering the person she is and the depth of love for the boy Jared once was, but I had a hard time dealing with her now being in a relationship with him. I just don’t understand how a girl can be in a relationship with a guy who emotionally abused her for so long – yes, she understands his reasons now, but can you really just forget three years of torment after one kiss? It would have been more realistic if Tate had more difficulty with this decision, and if the reader had been privy to her reservations. I think the author initially went too far in drawing Jared as a villain. His treatment of Tate was simply too big of a barrier to completely get over, and it was simply not possible to get me, as the reader, to forgive and forget and suddenly trust. By that point he was too well established as a jerk to endear him to the reader, and the lack of character development made it impossible to like him even after he softens up. The author failed to humanize him. Mostly, she sexualizes him... Using his hot body as an excuse for forgiveness doesn’t work, because let’s face it, that's not a good enough reason.
The supporting characters don’t fare much better. Madoc starts out a total jerk and halfway through the author tries to endear him to the reader. Same as Jared, the author went to too much trouble early on to make the reader hate him, and then suddenly expects the reader to like them because they do one nice thing – I just couldn’t warm up to him the way the author intended. Tate’s new best friend, K.C, is just a terrible friend, plain and simple. I don’t like her at all and I feel Tate was way too forgiving of her actions and what I saw as a complete betrayal. Also, the fact that Tate never addresses this betrayal with Jared is unrealistic. *Spoiler alert* If a guy I have feelings for hooks up with my best friend simply to hurt me and to turn her against me, that’s not okay and will definitely be a huge stumbling block in the road to romance. I just can’t see a best friend worth her salt hooking up with her best friend’s tormentor, and I can’t see Tate not being bothered by Jared and K.C’s fling once she and Jared make up. She never confronts Jared about it and he never apologises; it’s like the whole Jared/KC fling never happened.
This book also features graphic sexual scenes – surprising to me for a young adult novel. The sexual content was more adult than young adult. I enjoy young adult novels because generally while they tend to be passionate, the characters seldom hit the sheets; and if they do the author keeps it clean. This one was quite graphic, and I don’t quite know what to make of that. It’s definitely not the kind of thing I would be comfortable having my niece read.
All in all, whichever way it leaves you, Bully is a moving and powerful read. This book does not sit comfortably with me, and maybe that is a really big compliment to the author. It upset me, it confused me, it made me reflect and ponder, and - for whatever reason - it will stay with me.
Author: Penelope Douglas
Publisher: Penelope Douglas