Title: You Can’t Shatter Me
Author: Tahlia Newland
Review by Katherine Ashe, author of Montfort
Bullying is an act of repeated aggressive behavior in order to intentionally hurt another person, physically or mentally. So says Wikipedia, and it’s as good a definition as any. While the playground example is very familiar, bullying is not solely committed by children and teenagers, it finds many forms: in marriages, in business relations, in any relationship where one person or group attempts to dominate or discourage another. It can happen in the office or collegiate department, it can happen on line – in both meanings of the word: the internet or a waiting line at a store checkout. Bullying universally is detested and in sports, where the temptation may be the greatest, it is penalized.
Tahlia Newland looks at the subject in her book You Can’t Shatter Me, about teenagers beset by a boy angry about his life and determined to vent his rage upon anyone within his reach. Newland’s approach is both practical and spiritual, the means she finds for withstanding and diverting the assaults is spiritual, the assaults themselves are described with down to earth explicitness that made this reader cringe and wonder where the teachers were who should have been keeping such things from occurring in a schoolroom. Yet I don’t doubt they do happen.
The realistic and other-worldly combine in Newland’s style as well. Her principal boy and girl are given to having vivid fantasies. My initial impression was that they were either having schizophrenic delusions or were high on a drug. But no, these ventures into the fantastic are an aspect of Newland’s writing style. Whether or not they seem convincing of the mental world of two otherwise realistically drawn teenagers, they are in themselves some of Newland’s most vivid writing. And where they occur they offer poignant insights into those passages.
Newland’s formula for rising above the trajectory of ill will and turning the attacker into a friend may work for a reader with a proclivity toward spiritual matters: meditation, yoga, etc. They may indeed find You Can’t Shatter Me helpful as well as entertaining.
Will kindness, generosity and what amounts to the Golden Rule always work? It depends upon the agenda of the bully. If he’s a lonely and unhappy boy it may, if he’s a colleague hoping to undermine you so you don’t get the promotion he wants, it may not and you’ll have to seek elsewhere for your counter-offensive. Nonetheless, Newland’s spiritual approach may help to keep you from sinking under the onslaught.
As for myself, I remember, when I was a teenager, seeing the self-proclaimed witch Sybil Leek on television advise that, when under attack, breath slowly, steadily and deeply. A bit of hyperventilation can be cheering and supportive of civilized response. One never knows what unexpected source a good piece of advice may come from.