Normally I don’t go in for YA fiction, and Joshua’s Island is YA with a capital Y, meaning the characters are primarily in 8th grade. But the subject matter captured my attention and my son is heading toward that same age-range. I also caught no small amount of crap from some of the bullies in my Junior High, although my experience was nowhere near Joshua’s level. I was big enough to be a threat so there wasn’t as much beating up so much as a few guys threatening to beat me up.
The scars from those experiences run deep. Deep enough that if I ever meet those guys again it will be a serious temptation to introduce them to the inner mysteries of Kenpo. I won’t do it, I’m sure. Partly because it wouldn’t do any good to demonstrate just how much fun a dislocated shoulder or broken ribs can be, but also because there’s little chance I’ll ever come across them again.
Still, I know I can handle them if the situation should ever occur, and that’s a warm feeling.
Bullying has become an ever larger deal recently. This is due, I’m sure, to the fact that a lot of people had to deal with it when they were growing up. The bullies themselves have moved on to selling used cars or door-to-door life insurance and picking fights in dive bars. But no matter how miserable the bullies wound up, the fact that it happened at all is still a serious issue and, fortunately, schools appear to be taking it seriously. Finally.
Joshua, the titular character in Joshua’s Island is small enough that there’s no way he can handle himself against three larger kids. Truth be told, I don’t care good you are, three on one is not good odds. His bullying went far beyond anything most of us will ever have to deal with – to the point that the bullies basically ruined his life for years by spreading vicious lies and beating him up regularly.
If you recall what 8th grade is like, when the popular kids say something everyone takes it as fact. No matter how ludicrous it is. When you turn your back on those same popular kids, they can get pretty nasty and use their power to turn the rest of the school against you. When you couple this primal need for power with an administration that just flat out doesn’t care, bad things start happening with alarming frequency.
There is no one, simple answer to the bullying issue, and Patrick’s novel takes that into account. It would be easy to say Joshua just met his aggressors, one by one, in a dark alley with a lead pipe, but that’s simply not realistic. Joshua takes his licks and keeps going, year after soul-crushing year. Until he finally meets one person who takes the time to look through the lies and see the scared kiddo hiding underneath the veneer of falsehoods. Eve, ultimately, is his savior. It’s also fair to say, in many ways, that Eve has her own bullying to deal with. Although Eve’s attacks are less physical than Joshua’s, they’re no less devastating. Together, Eve and Joshua find a safe place of sorts and their relationship buds in the way that 8th grade relationships tend to bud.
Joshua’s Island is not always an easy story to read, but it’s an important one and it should be read and the lessons should be taken to heart. Unfortunately, the people that really need to be reading it – the bullies of the world – will never read it or, likely, understand it.
Fortunately, for those people, we still have dark alleys and lead pipes.