Bad to the Bone

Chestnut came home from school on Friday practically groaning
under her massive backpack. The culprit? A load of books gathered from a
mysterious box her teachers provided. Anyone could take home a book—free. Most
kids took one. She took…six?

She worked through them most of the weekend, very happily. First one, then the other, sort of hopping between them, until she came to this:

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It's not quite as sweetness and light as it looks from this particular cover.

Not to say that she disliked it—far from it. She loved it. Until it got so scary that she couldn't read anymore, and I, as is usual, was called in in my professional capacity as book finisher*, ie: "Mommy, this book is too scary, can you finish it and let me know how it ends?" Of course, I've done this before. And I'm happy to report that this time I didn't end up crying like a small child on the subway. But I did end up…surprised.

Most kids books by American authors tend to shy away from out and out calling the villains, well, villains. Especially if they're kids. It's usually a much more "understanding" approach, in which we find out that the person who was mean is actually just scared. Or nervous. Or has bad self-esteem. Or his/her parents are going through a divorce. Or or or….

But in this? This very British book? She's just BAD. Really bad. She's awful, nasty, spoiled, evil. She's scary.

There was something so excellent and freeing about reading it. I spend so much time trying to get my kids to develop empathy and understanding for the little creeps who push them off jungle gyms or drop books on their heads. Instead of ever saying, "Wow, that kid is a horrible child."

Yes, there is a virtue to suspending judgment, especially with children. But then again there is virtue, too, in acknowledging the truth of a situation. I always fear that my kids won't give enough benefit to the doubt. But when she finally did finish reading the book (once assured that there wasn't going to be anything too horrible), Chestnut said, "Wow, she was bad," about the villain of the book, Angel (really).

"Bad like X?" I asked (X, who's name has been changed to protect the guilty, is Chestnut's current nemesis).

"Oh no, Mommy. X is just bad, Angel is evil. There's a difference." And I thought: right. And how excellent of the book to give a person the room to make that distinction.

*Note: professional book finisher: is this stupid and damaging to a kid? Or caring and understanding? I never get these things right.

5 thoughts on “Bad to the Bone

  1. I agree, real evil puts the little bads in perspective. Sounds like a good read.
    As far as professional book finisher, as with all things, I think it depends on the kid. I grew up watching, reading, absorbing horror stories, ghost stories, slashers, whatever. I believe that for me, not finishing was always scariest. I am the cruel mom who makes her kids watch to the end of Scooby Doo because that’s the reassuring part. But some kids can put it behind them without finishing and that’s fine for them.

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  2. I am 44 and I still sometimes need a professional book finisher. However, I use the internet for quick summing up of the plot when I am too scared…

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  3. I think it’s actually important to have a “professional book finisher” or vetter or whatever for anyone who requests it. If someone has a gut feeling that something is going to be too much for them to handle, it’s great to have someone else check it out first. I WISH I’d had a professional short story finisher to tell me not to read Joyce Carol Oates’ extremely detailed and visceral story in the New Yorker about the frat boy who gets drunk and dies falling into a dumpster. I read it 7 days after giving birth to my daughter and I got so upset that I threw the magazine across the room and sobbed for an hour. I have never been so shaken up by a piece of fiction and I wish someone had told me what it was about because I would have avoided it like the plague. I hate JCO with a passion now, and I probably wouldn’t have if I had read it at a different time or a different frame of mind. So long story short, I think it’s caring and understanding. And at times very necessary.

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