Wednesday, November 23, 2011


When Lea Nolan invited me to guest  post here and told me that the topic was “high school hells,” my first thought was, “Wow…I can definitely talk about that.”

Not that I want to. I don’t think anyone should have to go through hell, in high school or otherwise. Unfortunately, it happens. When I was in high school, I was the kid who was bullied by the kids who were bullied. Lowest in the pecking order. Beginning in kindergarten, every day that I went to school I was teased, picked on, or bullied in one way or another. I was what you might call an easy target.

Most days that I went to school, I didn’t want to be there. I perfected the art of playing sick so I could either stay home or be sent home. When all else failed, I hid in the school library. I did have a handful of friends, but they were far outnumbered by the bullies. Added to that, I was very shy and afraid to talk to most people, and I think that contributed to my being bullied. After graduation, a few people told me that they had wanted to be my friend but thought I was “stuck up” because I didn’t talk to anyone.

One of my clearest memories of high school is wanting to slam a cheerleader against her locker—preferably many times—after she shouted at me, “Hey, elephant girl, why don’t you learn how to walk?” I’m not normally a violent person, and I didn’t actually touch her, or even respond, but that day I really, really wanted to do something. I was a senior then, and after twelve years I’d had it. I was sick and tired of being treated like crap.

Come on, you know you want to punch them too.
Nothing changed after that day. No one knew how close I’d come to actual physical violence. But I did start forcing myself not to care what people said about me. I was almost finished high school, and I would go on to do things that the kids who put me down wouldn’t be able to believe. I didn’t have to live my life based on their snippy little comments and insults. After all, they were only putting me down to make themselves feel better, and that was kind of sad for them.

Of course, I’m far from the only one who’s ever been through hell in high school. Pretty much every teen movie ever made deals with one kind of hell or another, from Emilio Estevez’s character in The Breakfast Club bragging about duct-taping a kid’s buttocks together to the over-the-top but not completely unrealistic sniping and bullying in Mean Girls. 
Lets see if he likes having his butt taped together.
There are so many books that deal with kids being teased or bullied, or having friends turn on them or stab them in the back, that I can’t even think of any to name (too many titles rushing through my brain). High school, with hundreds or even a couple thousand kids crammed into one building, is a fertile ground for conflicts of all kinds to occur.
The Plastics...ruling the school one insult at a time.
When my editor at Featherweight Press started working on my new novel Cluing In, one of the comments he made to me was, “All this happens to one person? I don’t remember this much drama at my high school.” My response was, “You’re lucky, then.”

The “drama” that Jamey Mandel, the main character in Cluing In, experiences is little compared to what some of my high school friends, and some of the high school students I’ve worked with, have dealt with in real life. Jamey has things pretty good for the most part. There are a few students at his high school that he doesn’t get along with, but most of the time he avoids them and they avoid him. The biggest problem in his life at the beginning of the book is that his girlfriend Tina is pressuring him to have sex. Jamey’s parents were only eighteen when he was born, and his father had moved out of state by the time Jamey’s mother learned she was pregnant, so she raised him alone for the first five years of his life. He has good reasons to want to wait for having sex.

After he breaks up with Tina, things get worse. She starts dating one of the guys Jamey doesn’t get along with. Then the rumors start. Rumors, unfortunately, are a big part of high school life (at least in the high schools I’ve been in), and Jamey’s school is no exception. Rumors go around about him being a virgin, which isn’t so bad since it’s true, but that isn’t something he wanted everyone to know about.

Rumors also go around that Tina’s pregnant by her new boyfriend, and that he’s dumped her because of it. And that’s also true.

Not being able to take the entire school knowing about her pregnancy, and not wanting to risk them finding out that she’s terminated it, Tina takes her own life. Some of the school blames Jamey, who entirely blames himself since Tina had come to him for help and he’d turned her away. Other students blame Tina’s new boyfriend, to the point of calling him a murderer, and the only thing that keeps him from taking the same way out as Tina is some quick thinking by Jamey.

High school can definitely be hell. Especially if you’re the target of bullying or rumors. Fortunately, it can also be a support system, as Jamey finds out.

Cluing In is available from Featherweight Press and from third-party retailers. To find out more about Jo Ramsey and her books, please visit

Great post, Jo! Thanks so much for stopping by Honestly YA. CLUING IN looks like a fantastic book. So how about you, gentle readers? Did you weather any bullying in high school? Evil rumors? Ever land a punch in retaliation, or just wish you had? Unload in the comments section below. 


Renee Pace said...

Great post Jo. That pic made me lol because I did want to punch them. High school is hell and being bullied sucks. It still happens and now it's more cyber bullying. Thanks for sharing your hell.

PJ Sharon said...

The book sounds real and contemporary. I've had people say the same thing about On Thin Ice. Does all of this happen to one girl? My answer is hell yeah!Generally, in contemporary YA fiction, there is one main problem that the character faces and then there is bleeding all ove rthe page for about 25o pages. Lots of angst over that one ordeal. But life isn't like that. People are faced with tough issues every day and often multiple tough issues at once. Teens are stressed out to the max and live many lives--from screwed up home lives, to drama with teachers, kids, parents, sports, friends and boyfriends. Kudos for taking the chance to write something different!

Jo Ramsey said...

Thanks for hosting me, Lea and the rest of the Honestly YA crew! I'm glad to be here today.

Renee, bullying definitely sucks, and cyber bullying can be way more extreme than some people realize. My older daughter went through it in middle school; her father's girlfriend and the girlfriend's 12-year-old daughter hacked my daughter's Facebook account and posted sexual comments about my daughter and me all over my daughter's wall. (Yes, my ex-husband's girlfriend was involved in online harassment of my 12-year-old. And that wasn't even the worst thing she did... Fortunately, she was dealt with.)

Even though this post is about *high school* hell, I think it's important for people to understand that bullying neither starts nor ends in high school. It happens in daycares and preschools; it happens in the workplace. And it all sucks.

Jo Ramsey said...

PJ, I need to check out On Thin Ice. From what I've heard about it, it sounds like a book that people should definitely read. And you have a good point. There are people who get through their teen years with little or no major issues in their lives; then there are people who seem to be a magnet for difficulties.

One thing I try to do with all my YA fiction is show that problems can be solved, but it doesn't always wrap up neatly like on TV.

Melissa Landers said...

Welcome, Jo, and thanks for sharing. It doesn't matter how popular anyone was in school, we all dealt with bullying at one time or another, which is why it's such a relevant topic.

Good luck with your new release!

Huntley Fitzpatrick said...

Beautifully put, Jo. No wonder you turned out so resilient. I remember a few years of very special hell in middle school...luckily not in high school. And I think a lot of people who get picked on close off, and then are seen as standoffish. I know that happened to me. A great post that really brought me back to what happened back then...and is sadly still happening now.

Trish Milburn said...

Sounds like a powerful book, Jo. Good luck with it.

I wouldn't say I was bullied exactly and I had some good friends, but high school wasn't my favorite time. Even in a small town, when you grow up poor you're not exactly at the top of the social pecking order.

But I survived it and feel like when I went to college is when I truly started becoming the person I am today. It was the freedom to be who I wanted to be and believe what I wanted to believe.

I truly do not understand the bullying aspect of middle and high school, and it often seems like maybe girls are worse than boys about it. I feel so sorry for anyone who has to go through it.

Kimberly said...

I heard from a friend who has a daughter in a Catholic elementary school that they had to have an assembly with parents about bullying. They said that back in the parents' day, bullies were generally the big boys in the grade who had either failed or been held back a year or two, but not so anymore.
Now, it's cliques of girls, and they begin in kindergarten. It's so sad. Girls definitely seem meaner, and they never let things go. They don't forget when someone wears something weird or someone does something embarrassing. They always bring up those memories--even years later.
It really is sad. And, unfortunately it gets even worse in high school.

Jo Ramsey said...

Thanks, Melissa!

Thanks, Huntley. I'm sorry you had to deal with that kind of thing.

Thanks, Trish. I don't understand bullying either, but it happens at all ages. I'm not sure if girls are worse than boys, but I think the way girls go about it can be worse. Girls tend to bully with words and subtle actions, whereas boys usually are more physical and overt about it. Sometimes words can hurt worse than punches.

Kim, there can definitely be a mob mentality involved in bullying by girls. None of them wants to be the next target, so they just join in. I think middle school can be the worst sometimes; with me, even though I was bullied all through school, the worst of it seemed to peak in middle school, and in high school I actually had a few friends who stuck up for me.

Lea Nolan said...

Grr, blogger is giving me fits! Trying again: Great post, Jo! I totally want to punch those bit*hes, too! I agree with Kim - I was shocked to learn, through my children, how early this stuff starts and that girls are at the forefront. One of my kids has had a tough time, but thankfully not to this degree. Schools are really trying to tamp down on this behavior, although regrettably it still goes on. As for me, I'm trying to raise my kids to be compassionate and live by the golden rule.

Jo Ramsey said...

Thanks, Lea, and thanks again for inviting me!

Yeah, it definitely starts early, unfortunately. I try to bring my kids up not to bully and to treat people the way they want to be treated. My older daughter, the one who was harassed by her father's girlfriend, has been part of her school's Day of Silence (to raise awareness of GLBT issues) and Spread the Word to End the Word (to eliminate use of the word "retard") for the past couple years, and actually tried to start a Gay-Straight Alliance in her *elementary* school because she didn't think it was fair that GLBTQ kids get picked on.

My younger daughter, who's 13 now, has high-functioning autism, and so has faced a lot of bullying. Not nearly as much at her current middle school as in elementary school, though. She gets very annoyed when she sees someone picking on someone else, and sticks up for other kids if she sees it.

Brinda said...

What a great post! There are definitely different "levels" of hell to be experienced. It's funny how I look back on some little things and am amazed at the cruelty of teens. Last night, I told my writer friends on a loop that I'm not the "slumber party type" in reference to a retreat we are planning. On Twitter this morning, one friend kiddingly told me that since I had confessed that, my bra would be be first one to go into the freezer. She was joking, of course (I hope). When I read the tweet, I was transported to a slumber party I attended where I woke to mustard all over my face and hair. I unwittingly feel asleep first. Just passing along a memory I had forgotten about until this morning. :) Yes, the mob mentality takes over at slumber parties. lol

Jo Ramsey said...

I only ever went to one slumber party, and never tried to host any. I think I lucked out! LOL

B. A. Binns said...

I was the invisible girl in high school, and the more I think about it the happier I am that I was ignored, things could really have been worse.

This sounds like a great book covering some good issues. I think I'm going to grab me a copy.

Jo Ramsey said...

B.A., sometimes I wish I had been invisible...The times when people ignored me were my best times.

Thanks; if you get the book, I hope you enjoy it!

CareyCorp said...

Welcome Jo. Sorry I'm late to the party. What a heartwrenching, beautifully candid post. Cluing In sounds empowering.

Your editor: “All this happens to one person? I don’t remember this much drama at my high school.”

Me: "Really!?!" For those getting crapped on, it seems to get worse not better. After one of my recent posts on Honestly YA about the bully that made my life hell, I found out I was not his only victim. It's not that I'm that arrogant or egocentric, I just never saw him tormenting anyone else. Apparently he ever pulled a gun on this other person.

I wish I'd fought back. I wish I'd spoken up. And most especially I wish I'd known about the others - that I wasn't alone.

Thanks for being our guest.

Jo Ramsey said...

Thanks for your comment, Carey. I think my editor was very, very fortunate, but he also went to a larger high school, if I remember correctly, so he may just not have seen the drama. (The school I went to, and the ones where I've worked, have all been on the smaller side, comparatively speaking. 400-800 students total.)

I'm so sorry you had to deal with that, Carey. I wish, too, that you'd known you weren't alone.