Vanessa writes: today I’m talking to author Cynthia T. Toney. Her new book, Bird Face, is an entertaining—yet enlightening—novel about a teen girl dealing with issues such as suicide, eating disorders, and bullying in the public school system.
As I read Cynthia’s book, it resonated with me because of my own experiences—which are still quite vivid despite the passing of years. In high school, two girls consistently harassed me in the halls, the cafeteria, the gym, wherever our paths crossed. They were tall and loud and insulting, and the constant stress ruined my high school years. At home, my father had a debilitating, chronic illness and my mother was his full-time caregiver, so I was reluctant to tell my parents I was in trouble. Like many victims, I felt isolated and just wanted to survive until it was over.
Fellow readers, if you or someone you know is being victimized by a bully, you’ll find immediate help and resources at the bottom of this blog post.
Cynthia, thanks for coming to the blog today and talking to us about Bird Face and the subject of bullying.
Vanessa: My first question is about your main character, Wendy, and how she faces difficult challenges and discovers something about herself along the way. Did you draw from personal experience?
Cynthia: I did. Not so much as a young person, but later. It takes some of us a long time to understand that we have within us the strength to do more than we initially think ourselves capable. I remember thinking as a teenager and a young adult, “If only I didn’t have this difficult situation to deal with” or “If only I could get over this hurdle” or “solve this problem” then I could do such-and-such. But often, forcing oneself to move forward and get involved somewhere else you’re needed, or to work at solving a different problem, helps resolve the previous one.
Vanessa: Were you bullied in school or did you know anyone who was, and how did you deal with it?
Cynthia: There was a girl in elementary school who bullied other kids into giving her candy. I had only one encounter with her but didn’t give in. Nothing further happened because of that. In upper elementary, I was called Bird Face a couple of times, and it hurt a little, but the bullying was short-lived and didn’t affect me the way it does Wendy. My daughter experienced instances of bullying when she was in school, but I experienced more verbal bullying as an adult from other adults.
Vanessa: Indeed, adult bullying is now getting attention, too. Scientific studies indicate that the resultant stress—regardless of age—causes depression, anxiety, PTSD, migraines, stomach trouble and a host of other physical ailments. In Bird Face, is the bully, John Monster based on anyone you knew in school?
Cynthia: The idea for John-Monster came to me because of the variety of bully types in the news. A bully doesn’t always fit the stereotype of years past — that of the hulking male who shoves his way through life. It can be anyone, including someone like John who is verbally bullied at home and turns the same toward his classmates. It can also be the pretty and perky girl next door who bullies someone over the Internet.
Vanessa: How did you develop the bullying plotline in such a believable way?
Writing in first person point of view creates challenges. I had to write the character John-Monster to show us why he verbally bullied Wendy the way he did. Neither she nor the reader could be allowed to get inside his head. I didn’t want her or the reader to understand the reasons for his bullying right away, so I wrote clues into the story as it went along. And I had to show he was still lovable, and loved by someone the reader knows.
Vanessa: Your research and insight are fantastic. Most victims are bewildered at being the object of a bully’s vitriol. Bird Face delivers believable, multi-dimensioned characters instead of simple black and white, right and wrong. What advice would you give kids (or parents of kids) who are being bullied right now?
Cynthia: Parents and other adults responsible for children in their care should pay attention and listen to kids. To me, one instance of name-calling doesn’t necessarily equal bullying, and a talk with the parties involved may put a stop to it. Repeated offenses that distress the victim to the point that he or she withdraws socially or turns on others shouldn’t be ignored. It’s important to be aware of what’s happening at school and what your child is doing on the Internet.
Vanessa: Thanks for talking with us about Bird Face and this important social issue for teens. Fellow readers, I highly recommend Bird Face. I bought it for my fourteen-year-old daughter and she found it entertaining as well as informative. A rare combination in children’s literature.
Cynthia: My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.
Ms. Toney holds a BA in art education and began her first novel while working as an advertising designer and marketing copywriter for a number of publishers. She enjoys writing both contemporary and historical fiction for teens. Also once a decorator, her articles on interior decorating appear at homeguides.SFGate.com. She has a passion for rescuing dogs from animal shelters and studying the history of the South, where she resides with her husband and as many dogs as space will allow.
Connect with her:
Personal Blog: http://birdfacewendy.wordpress.com/
Member Blogger: https://thescriblerians.wordpress.com
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/birdfacewendy?ref=hl
About Bird Face:
Anonymous sticky-notes, a scheming bully, and a ruined summer send almost-fourteen-year-old Wendy down a trail of secrets and self-discovery.
At the end of eighth grade, Wendy Robichaud doesn’t care one bit about being popular like her good-looking classmates Tookie and the Sticks—until Brainiac bully John-Monster schemes against her, and someone leaves anonymous sticky-note messages all over school. Even her best friend, Jennifer, is hiding something and pulling away. But the Spring Program, abandoned puppies, and high school track team tryouts don’t leave much time to play detective. When secrets and failed dreams kick off the summer, will Jennifer still be around to support her?
Using humor and offering hope, this story for ages 10 to 14 (grades 5-8) delicately addresses issues of bullying, eating disorders, imperfect families, and teen suicide
If you or someone you know are being bullied, do not remain silent. Bullying is wrong, and you deserve to live in peace, without harassment. Get help and know your options.
Resources for coping with bullies, approaching school authorities, and other strategies: http://www.stopbullying.gov/get-help-now/
Crisis hotlines and informational websites: http://www.teenhealthandwellness.com/static/hotlines
Tell us about your own experience with bullying. We’d love to hear from you. Together we are strong!
“Bird Face” shines a realistic light on the important topic of bullying as well as other issues relevant to teenagers. Thanks, Vanessa and Cynthia, for giving us peek into the making of this great story.
Thank you for commenting, Beth. And Vanessa, I really appreciate your listing resources for parents and kids who are victims of bullying.
Bullying is something we discuss with our daughter whenever the opportunity comes up. I don’t think she had experienced it yet but kids have their incidents in school and we want to make sure she knows to help if she ever sees bullying and to come to us if she ever finds herself the target. Last week, a parent told us after a birthday party that she was the peacemaker throughout the evening. 🙂
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When I was in kindergarten, the girl down the street (a 1st grade, I think), told me that I had to follow her around the play ground, two steps behind her “or else.” Needless to say, I was upset and didn’t know what to do. My mom told me to stand up to her and tell her “No.” I did, and that solved the problem.
There were others who intimidated me throughout school – some people are just like that. I tried to surround myself with friends and ignore the “mean girls,” because, you’re right, “together we are strong.” 🙂
And that’s why I love my Scriblerian friends so much!
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