Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Two New Book Reviews: See Me (by H.R. Hobbs) and Hear Me (by H.R. Hobbs). Two middle years' novels concerning school bullying.

“See Me” (Breaking the Rules Series)
by H.R. Hobbs
Published by H.R. Hobbs
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
ISBN 9-780995-344808

Retired teacher Heather Hobbs has turned her lifelong passion for books into a new profession. In 2015 she picked up the pen and started writing realistic, contemporary page-turners for middle years' students, and rather than wait years for a publisher to consider, potentially accept her manuscript, and release her books, Assiniboia-based Hobbs took matters into her own hands and published her own work under the pen name H.R. Hobbs. With almost thirty years of classroom experience to her credit, the teacher-turned writer's depiction of middle grades' school culture results in an interesting and credible story.   

See Me, the first in her Breaking the Rules Series, looks just like a trade published book. The cover features a close-up of an eye, and the interior type is easy to read. The story's narrator is 13-year-old Hannah, an only child who was traumatized on her very first day of kindergarten after a classmate, Brady, noticed the "ugly" burn scars on her legs and called her "Scar-legs". The ostracizing and bullying that began that day has followed her all the way into Grade Seven, and her nemesis, Brady, is still a classmate. All Hannah wants is "to be invisible in school," and for the most part, she is.

Hannah, the quiet loner, also seems to hover beneath the radar at home, and that's exactly where she like to exist. After she'd angered her farther during an early childhood incident, she vowed to always follow the rules and never upset her father - "a man of few words, he would come home from work, grab a bottle from the cupboard over the fridge, and poor the golden liquid in a glass" - again. Hannah says that by age five "the need to please [her] parents had become an obsession". It doesn't sound like a very healthy childhood. Hannah's only outlet is her journal. Full of her private thoughts and poems, the journal is "the only place that [she] let [her] true self out". She never shares it with anyone. 
Enter new student, Chip, with his "Star Wars" T-shirts, his habit of engaging reticent Hannah in conversation, and his I-don't-care-what-anyone-else-thinks attitude. Hannah eventually warms to him. Unfortunately, Brady and his cohorts make Chip a target, too.

Young readers will relate to the contemporary language and references, ie: Chip says "Meh" and Hannah watches "The Hunger Games" - for the fourth time.

As I write this there's another national case of school bullying in the news. This issue is not going away, but books like "See Me" can help youth who suffer understand that they are not alone, and that speaking up, though difficult, is often the first step toward a solution.

As compelling as the school story is, it's the relationship between Hannah and her ambulance attendant father that I look forward to learning more about in Hobbs' sequel, Hear Me. What's going on there? 
A Kindle version of this book can be ordered via amazon.ca. For more about the writer and this series, see hrhobbsbooks.com.

 “Hear Me” (Breaking the Rules Series)

by H.R. Hobbs
Published by H.R. Hobbs
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
ISBN 9-780995-344815

In Hear Me, Assiniboia, SK teacher-turned-writer H.R. Hobbs' follow-up to her middle years' novel See Me, Grade Eight protagonist Hannah evolves from a reclusive and bullied girl who tries to remain invisible into an assertive gal who leads the charge for justice when friends are victimized. Through realistic scenes that move between home and school settings in fictional "Acadia," Hobbs' readers witness the ins and outs of Hannah's troubled adolescent life, and learn how speaking up against bullying makes a tremendous difference, even if the-powers-that-be aren't eager to hear the message.    

Readers of the first in this series of novels know that journal-writing Hannah's set strict "rules" for herself: "1. Don't make anyone mad. 2. If I'm invisible, no one can hurt me. 3. Keep my problems to myself. 4. No one sees my writing!" In the past, Hannah's angered her father and been hurt by classmates. Unlike her easy-going - but also bullied - friend, Chip, Hannah's very sensitive to these attacks, and she's determined to do something about them.

In this new novel she acquires a few more friends, and, as in See Me, she experiences how powerful the written word can be, both as a therapeutic activity and as a way to find one's voice and use it for the greater good. It's satisfying to see a character grow like this, and it would be affirming for young readers who also struggle with bullying and poor self-confidence to read about Hannah's progress.

Hobbs has done an especially sound job of characterizing Hannah, whose desire to remain invisible extends to her clothing. She attends a Hallowe'en dance dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi from "Star Wars", with an "infinity scarf" covering her head. Even her friend, cheerleader Trudy, recognizes that the old, insecure Hannah sometimes lurks just beneath the surface. "Hannah, why are you still hiding?" she asks. I remembered my own junior high dances when Trudy says: "Why does the student council even bother with dances? This is basically just the lunchroom with costumes." And in descriptions of school hallways, ie: "I had to fight my way against the tide of students going to class," one can almost hear those locker doors being slammed and feel the body-jostling.

It was encouraging to read that Hannah's English teacher invited a spoken word poet into the classroom for a workshop; writers in schools are a win-win for both the students and the often severely economically-challenged writers. In this scene the poet shares a poetry slam video featuring Canadian Shane Koyczon's performance of "Troll," a piece about internet bullying. (As soon as I finish writing this, I'll be checking that out.) I also appreciated that the invited poet reminded Hannah and her classmates that "poetry is art for the listener" … " while it means something to the poet, once it has left the poet's mouth it belongs to the listeners to interpret for themselves". Superb advice.

Hannah's story feels far from over. See Me. Hear Me. Where will Hobbs take her next?  


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