confessions from a junior high bird face

To celebrate the release of Cynthia Toney’s debut novel, Bird Face, I have decided to publicly humiliate myself. [deep breath]

You see, Cynthia’s novel took me back to my junior high years. I don’t know about yours, but mine came with a lot of ups and downs. Academic ups and relational downs, mostly.

In 6th grade, I had to switch elementary schools because I was admitted into a gifted and talented program and they weren’t offering it at the school that was a block from my house. So in my final year of elementary school, I had to start all over. New school, new friends, new everything. And I looked like this:

Horrible picture of me from 6th grade. #soembarrassing

Horrible picture of me from 6th grade. #soembarrassing

No fashion sense, glasses, braces, and stick thin. AND I was in the gifted and talented program. *sigh*

The funny thing is that no matter how you end up looking, your junior high self-image tends to stick with you for quite a while. So while I ended up graduating from high school looking like this (and don’t ask how long it took me to get my hair to look like that)…

Me as a senior in high school

Me as a senior in high school

…I still felt like the 6th grade image of me. I was bird face and bird legs, and just like Wendy Robichaud, the main character of Cynthia Toney’s most excellent novel, my best friend was drop-dead gorgeous. She was even voted Most Beautiful our senior year of high school. And just like Wendy, I was both happy for her and jealous.

But the character from Bird Face that really resonated with me was John-Monster. A brainiac bully who made himself feel better by making others feel worse.

There was a boy in our gifted and talented program name Mike Long. He was smart, obviously, and a nice guy. We all liked him, but we all called him Mike Wide behind his back because the poor guy was very large. If his last name had been Smith or Thompson or something else, I wonder if things would have turned out differently. I don’t think any of us meant to be a John-Monster to him, but I’m sure at some point that we probably slipped and he heard what we called him. The thing is, we didn’t do it to be deliberately mean. At least, I didn’t. The long/wide comparison was just sitting there begging to be used, kinda like people would always call me Lisa Pizza and my husband Chris Piss growing up. It’s what kids do. And honestly, Mike was large enough that he would have been teased no matter what his last name was. Childhood obesity when I was growing up wasn’t what it is today, so a large kid really stood out.

I never saw Mike after 6th grade, but I heard he committed suicide less than two years later. A product of childhood teasing? I’m sure it played a part. And this is what reading Bird Face made me think of. While we all feel like a bird face at times, there’s a little John-Monster in all of us as well. Growing up is coming to the point where you don’t let others identify you. You decide who you’re going to be, and become the best person you can, like Wendy.

BIRD.FACE.FC.reducedSo I think Bird Face is important and that all tween girls and their parents must read this book. Let’s talk about real issues that kids face and confront them head-on. Unlike many Christian novels where everything must be clouds, smiles, and rainbows, this book is edgy in that it handles topics like bullying, self-image, eating disorders, and suicide in a gentle manner from a Christian worldview. And it’s non-preachy too. Read this book, is all I’m saying.

And to Mike Long and his family… I’m sorry. I remember your son for the great pictures he drew.

And now, dear readers, if you could go back to junior high and do one thing differently, what would it be?

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8 thoughts on “confessions from a junior high bird face

  1. Every blog post has been deepening my conviction that this is one book to definitely be shared with my little preteen. And this one cemented it before I’d even gotten to the last paragraph. I’m not sure what I would do – maybe try to convince myself that all the other tweens are in the same boat feeling the same things just wearing different masks to hide behind.

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  2. Yes. I got called Gretch the Wretch. To this day I despise being called Gretch. Compounded by my daughter bringing home a book called Gretch the Witch. Oh goody. I have a green face and wart. Just call me Elphaba.
    I think we all had our moments of being John-Monster to someone or kids picking on us.

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  3. Nicknames have always fascinated me, probably because I wasn’t noticeable enough to have a nickname in junior high or high school. I pretty much faded into the background. I had friends but I know for a fact I was easily forgotten. “I don’t remember you at all…” was uttered more than once at a class reunion. And our class wasn’t that big. Now that’s better than being the object of bullying or some horrendously embarrassing nickname. Oh, well.

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  4. Lisa, now I can look at pictures of myself and think I was a cute kid, but Oh how I hated the way I looked back then. You were cute too, even if you didn’t think so, and then very pretty in your senior pic. 🙂 If I could go back to junior high, I would be friendly to a person who had few or no friends or who never received a compliment. I thought I had it bad, but there were others who had it worse than I did.

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  5. Kat, Gretchen, Beth, and Cynthia:

    It’s a theme, right? If I went back I wouldn’t worry so much about what others thought of me, and I’d be nicer to kids who needed it. Now all we can do is to try to help our kids cope. We had a nice talk at lunch about this article. It’s Spring Break so my husband took off work and we hung out with the girls today. I gave him this article to read at lunch, and he said he learned something new about me (after 20+ years). Then we spoke to the girls about how your words can either build people up or tear them down. Then we had to switch subjects because it got really depressing: me and my husband reliving others we knew that had bad things happen to them in school. At least in college, you get a sort of do-over. 🙂

    And Cyn, there is nothing cute about 6th grade me. That’s why I chose that picture. 😀

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  6. Lisa your review makes me want to read this book. I was much like Beth who said she went unnoticed. I too was undeserving of a nickname. When you aren’t part of the “in” crowd you flock to others of your own kind. My biggest regret in middle school would be telling all the other “out” crowd kids about the bed wetting problem of one of our own. That’s hard to admit.

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    • I hear you. I went through a period in 7th grade where I was trying to switch friends…from less popular to more popular. I showed a note a friend had written me about a boy she had a crush on to some other girls. One of the many things I wish I could undo. Fortunately, it ended up not being a big deal. She never knew that I had done it.

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  7. Pingback: from one bird face to another | Lisa Godfrees

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