Diary of a Witness by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Over the summer, when I wasn’t blogging, I read some things. Most notably, I read a book called Columbine by Dave Cullen. Dave Cullen was on the scene at Columbine on the day that it happened, and he has worked on the story for the past ten years, clarifying information and debunking many of the myths that came out at the time. If you have any interest at all in the story of Columbine, of how and why it could have happened, you should check out the book. It’s definitely one of the best I have read this year (and I have read about 90 books this year, so that is really saying something.

From there, I decided for some reason that it was time to read some Wally Lamb. I am never sure if I have read Wally Lamb or not. I have read some Oprah bookclub books, and I think I read one of his, but I am not sure. So I decided to read the newest one, The Hour I First Believed, just to make sure I hadn’t read it before. And it happens to be about Columbine. And it was really terrible. I didn’t like it at all. Terrible things just kept happening to the characters. I kept reporting them to Mike. He did not believe me. That’s how terrible they were. But, trust me, it was terrible. Don’t read it. Maybe try something else if you want to read some Wally Lamb.

So, after I had already spent some time thinking about Columbine and school shootings, I was interested when Diary of a Witness by Catherine Ryan Hyde showed up at my house.

Diary of a Witness is the story of Will and Ernie, two boys who are often bullied at school. Will and Ernie are friends because they come from single-parent homes, they share a love of fishing, and they don’t really fit in anywhere else. After Will loses his brother in a fishing accident, his life begins to unravel in front of Ernie’s eyes. On top of that, the bullying is getting worse – more personal and more vicious. Can Ernie prevent Will from doing something rash? Should he intervene? Can he stop his friend and save him at the same time?

My main concern about the book was that it did seem to fall prey to one of the myths about school shooters, namely that someone might just snap and come into a school with a gun. The book doesn’t entirely fall into that trap, but it edges right up to it, and since Columbine was still in my mind, that concerned me a little bit. The article I linked also points out that the majority of the time, these students are not loners and, in fact, are often active in school or other activities. Having our protagonist and his friend be the victims of constant bullying makes it easier to get in their heads and makes it easier to understand, but it doesn’t mean that’s the “typical” school shooter story. As an educator, it’s important to me that students and teachers don’t continue to think that one day some loner might snap, that there are warning signs that we can look for, and that we need to be vigilant.

Overall, though, I did like the book quite a bit. Teens don’t necessarily care about the ins and outs of school shooters, and it has a good message for young teens about bullying, doing what is right, and getting help. Ernie is a sympathetic narrator, and his struggles at home and at school are very real. Even if Ernie couldn’t trust his mom, he did have an uncle he was able to talk to. One of Ernie’s struggles is that he’s overweight, and there is a sympathetic but challenging gym teacher who I really liked. I thought that was a nice touch. This is a good middle school book, and I’ll be adding it to my library’s collection.

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