Inside My Head by Jim Carrington

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Inside My Head by Jim Carrington

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Highly successful and subtle book about bullying. Claustrophic and unbearably tense, it's extremely compelling and gives a good deal of pause for thought. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1408802716

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Zoe has moved from London to rural Norfolk - her parents are expecting a late baby and they want to downsize, get out of the city, and live in a more sustainable way. Unsurprisingly, Zoe isn't big on this plan. Wrenched from her school and friends, and the vibrancy of the capital, she's convinced that her life has just taken a socking great turn for the worse.

Gary's father drinks too much. His mother is lovely but overworked and distracted. He's not popular at school. In fact, far from it. He's become a target for Knaggs's sharp tongue. Knaggs is one of those boys you hate on the inside but pretend to like on the outside, lest he turns his attention on you. He's smug, spoiled and vicious and he humiliates Gary on a daily basis, leaving him isolated, insecure and full of impotent fury.

Nobody does anything about it, including David. David is a long-time friend of Knaggs, but he knows the bullying is going too far. It makes him feel uncomfortable and he longs to do something about it, but he's unwilling to involve a teacher. Everyone knows you don't grass on a friend. And anyway, he lacks the courage. Who wants to stand alone against Knaggs? Who wants to be Gary Mark II?

But it can't go on. And Gary's about to reach breaking point...

I thought this was a wonderfully honest book and a tremendously tense one, too. It's saved from being actually painful by it's triple-narrator structure - had it been entirely told from Gary's point of view, I don't think I could have borne it. Of course, this structure is much more than a safety valve. It illustrates peer groups and peer pressures perfectly. Gary and David are part of an existing and strong school society and whatever their insights into it - and David, particularly, has a very sophisticated understanding of what's going on - they are paralysed by it and they feel unable to act positively. Zoe, on the other hand, is a newcomer. She understands the unwritten rules but she's less tied to them because of her outsider status. She's not afraid to be Gary's friend - but even then, there are some lines she won't cross: she won't "tell" on either Knaggs or Gary.

The crisis is unavoidable and it looms large from the very first page of the book. Tension builds and builds and builds, as Carrington builds a truly vivid picture of what it's like to be Gary. Mocked mercilessly, derided and belittled, he's not your obvious bullying victim. He's big and strong and he's capable of fighting back. But, of course, thanks to the closed society of pupils, when he does it seems to those in authority that's it's coming from nowhere. Their disapproval adds another layer to Gary's self-disgust and eventually, isolated and without positive feedback, he begins to doubt himself as much as his headteacher does when he decides to exclude Gary for violent conduct.

Every reader will recognise these fully-fleshed characters, and will feel the claustrophic atmosphere of a set of teenage relationships going badly wrong. It's easy to read but cleverly written, and it comes recommended by Bookbag.

My thanks to the good people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.

Bullying is also a theme of Crossing the Line by Gillian Philip, courageously told from the perspective of an ex-bully. In Luke and Jon by Robert Williams, another boy is faced with a dilemma about whether or not to stand up to a bully. I think the wonderful Secret Heart by David Almond might also appeal.

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