Book Review – Joshua’s Island by Patrick Hodges

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.

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Bullies and body image

When I was 13 or 14, I hated PE.  Actually, that’s not true, I hated PE the second I got into Junior High and our teach, Coach Johnson, immediately started in on the “you’re too fat” lines.  The jock kids immediately joined in and much fun was had at my expense.  I remember when I went out for track and had to go into the shed to get something, a discus or some damned thing, and turned around to find one kid who hassled me regularly and all his buddies blocking the door.

More hilarious taunting and the odd punch followed.  Nothing major, mind you, just enough for those idiots to feel tough.

High school PE was essentially the same fun.  Too fat.  Can’t run fast enough.  Blah, blah, blah.  This time, though, I’m pretty sure the coach was having sex with one of the senior girls.  Never called him on it, but I hope his karma caught up to him.

The whole thing did wonders for my self esteem, as you can probably imagine.  To this day, I have a deep distrust of jocks and a general hatred of people who think fat shaming is a viable alternative to not being a dick.  The difference now is I know a thing a two more than I did before and I’ve got a wicked fast right.

The long term effects of bullying have been fairly well documented and they’re sometimes accurate sometimes not.  People are all individuals, and each person reacts to stimuli differently than other people.  For the most part, I’m over all of it.  There’s only one guy I’d gleefully pummel to a pulp given the chance – the guy who cornered me in the shed – and even then only if he attacked me first.

So, yeah, I’m still not exactly what you’d call attractive in the general sense of the term, but I frankly don’t care much anymore.  That’s one of the benefits of getting older.  Oddly enough, I work out far more and far harder now than I ever did when I was young.  Still overweight, but I’m actually in pretty decent shape.  I’ve learned to enjoy the workout and the exercise has certainly made my Kenpo that much better.

I usually go to the gym at 5am.  Before you start thinking I’m totally hardcore, I’m really not.  I go to work pretty early, so I just hit the gym first thing in the morning and get it out of the way.  Plus, at night I’m pretty tired and don’t want to go, so it kind of works out in strange sort of way.

Since I go so early, I don’t eat before I go.  My body at 5am isn’t really fully functional, so I just take a pre-workout drink and call it good.  Eat some oatmeal at work and I’m fine.

The first time I actually ordered an honest-to-God pre-workout drink (from Bodybuilding.com – good site, not as crazy hardcore as you’d think) they sent me a copy of their magazine with the order.  It’s called Train and gracing the cover was a shirtless Joe Manganeillo, pumped eight ways to Sunday and looking scruffy as hell.  If you’re not familiar with Joe, he looks like this:

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Pretty buff dude.

Actually, the whole magazine was filled with guys who looked like that and tips about what supplements you need to take to look like that and what diet you should follow to look like that and what exercises were best.  They also had a section on how to take the best selfie.

I flipped through the magazine and found a few tips and exercises that I’ve implemented – jumping lunges are brutal, by the way.  I also figured out it was possible for me, yes me, to look like mighty Joe up there.  I’d just need to eat perfectly balanced meals every day, workout a few hours a day (six days a week), and take a whack of supplements.

Supplements are big in the body building world.

I don’t have the time to workout three hours a day, my schedule is hectic enough that I can’t guarantee perfectly balanced meals, and I don’t care too much for supplements.  I have taken some of their advice to heart and eat smaller amounts throughout the day, but I don’t feel like my metabolism is IN OVERDRIVE, but I do feel hungry a lot of the time and my gut is shrinking, so that’s something.

What I have gotten out of the experience of reading one issue of Train is this: I may not look like mighty Joe up there, but that’s okay.  He may be something to shoot for, but I’m way beyond obsessing about my appearance and until I win the lottery or something, I doubt I’ll have the time to put into getting his physique.

So rest easy, Joe.  You won’t have mighty Eric Lahti challenging you for your crown any time soon.

Which leads me to the final thought for the day, something my wife pointed out recently.  With the prevalence of totally ripped guys gracing the cover of magazines and starring in movies, men (as a whole) are starting to get a taste of the same body issues I’ve been dealing with all my life and women have been dealing with since the first idiot decided corseting gives a better figure.  We all take ourselves to task over how we look, be it might Joe up there or whatever starlet is considered the hottest thing these days, and it’s doesn’t do us a bit of good.

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The world has some pretty strange ideas of what men and women are supposed to look like.  Fuck ’em, I say.  I’ll try to stay in shape, but that’s just because it’s fun and a great stress reliever.

The other nice thing about getting older is I have to deal with fewer bullies these day.  The few that are out there, I can handle a lot better than I used to be able to.