Consequences or, The Mean Girls

Since so much of children's
literature appears to be aimed at girls, it inevitably takes on some of
the more troubling—and apparently constant through the ages—issues of
girls' cruelty to each other. I'm glad of this, because somewhere in my
eternally naive self I hold onto the thought that reading about a
problem in a novel will a) help you handle the problem, by offering
good suggestions as to how this fictional character in this fictional
world handled it, (see Going On Sixteen, Blubber, etc etc) and b) it's
nice to know you're not the only person in the world with a particular
problem. "Mean girls"—although I know how useless a term this is,
because who is there who hasn't been on both ends of this thankless
cycle?–abound.
Rarer, though, is the book that brings it home to you just how harsh it
is, just how real it is, and just how a person who does it—other than
the victim—lets herself get caught up in what seems OK at first, until
you realize it's not.

The Hundred Dresses

This
book
is old. It was written in 1944, if Wikipedia can be trusted, but
the strange old-fashioned details somehow only sharpen how consistent
we are as human beings. It's written from the point of view of a girl
who goes along with a teasing cruelty to the poorest, strangest girl in
the class. It so perfectly captures, without overt judgment, the
painful struggle, and the all-too-common-capitulation, that a girl who
goes along with torturing another girl feels. The thrill of
overpowering someone, the blaming the victim, the fear that it could be
you there, next time. What Chestnut and I found even more marked was
the way the book didn't let anyone off the hook. The victim is hurt;
she leaves. There is no way to atone for the narrator. She must live
with what she has done, and I found this unexpectedly moving.

I wonder how it would be for a girl to read this book—a girl who
tortured others. I know that most of the kids who do this do it not
because they are bad or evil, but rather just because that's what kids
do. They don't quite get that it actually affects someone else; they
don't quite believe in the other child's vulnerability. I'm sure many
mothers of "mean girls," those who can acknowledge to themselves that
that's what's going on, are looking for ways to help bring home to
those kids the real effect their actions have on other people. I would
tell them to read this book. I wonder if it would make any difference.

6 thoughts on “Consequences or, The Mean Girls

  1. My daughter read this book last year, and cried in empathy for Wanda. However, after I re-read it (my bad for not doing it beforehand) the two of us had some wonderful talks about teasing and consequences. I almost wish it were required reading.

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  2. I have never read this book. It is on my list. We will be doing a bully lesson with our girl scout troop this year…I hope that this book can help. Thanks!

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  3. I remember reading this book and thinking it couldn’t be real – it is rare to find a story that doesn’t let the perpetrator off the hook. Thanks for reminding me about it.

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  4. This book WAS required reading for my daughter’s 3rd grade class. She loved it, and it definitely provided a framework for the class to talk about “Mean Girls” types of issues. megsie, I think it would work well for your GS troop. It’s a pretty short, easy read, as well, so that could help.

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  5. This was one of my favorite reads during childhood. I bought it on Amazon last year for my three daughters. I hope they enjoy it as much as I did.

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  6. I just recently heard of this book and was overwhelmed by the description I heard. My oldest is just 6 now (and a boy, but from what I understood of the story, it would translate well to bullying of either sex), but when he’s a little older, I think this will definitely be one for us to read together.

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