Hazel Hill is in sixth grade of middle school, and, by her own admission, doesn’t have any friends. Her position as an outcast means she becomes a confidante for Tyler Harris, a boy who falls in and out of love with different girls on a daily basis. Tyler tells Hazel a secret about one of the popular girls, Ella Quinn, and inadvertently sets in motion the growth of Hazel Hill.
After a rocky start, Hazel and Ella bond, and start sharing their own secrets. One of them is that Ella has been threatened on a social media app by someone purporting to be at their school – think name-calling, body-shaming, threats. As is often the case, these words have been sent from an anonymous account, but Hazel and Ella, along with loyal friend Riley, begin to make inroads into an investigation as to who might have sent them.
The girls identify the culprit quite quickly, but, worryingly, the school does not believe them. There is no evidence, no concrete proof, and the politics of this particular school leads to Hazel taking matters into her own hands.
We never find out what happens to the person who sent the messages, and maybe that doesn’t matter. What does strike the reader is that these girls knew what was right and what was wrong and did something about it. Their sense of allyship meant that nobody had to suffer in silence, which, as it turns out, many girls were.
The story focuses on sexual harassment against young girls, both in words and in actions, bringing to the fore the idea of toxic masculinity, a complete absence of accountability, and moral rights and wrongs on social media (and beyond). There is a lot to talk about with children – as a teacher of year 6 children, I think this might be a story they could handle but I would certainly recommend it for KS3 students.
I enjoyed the first-person narrative of the book, meaning we could see and hear Hazel’s thought processes – Is this right? Am I wrong? – as she determines the best path to take. As mentioned earlier, Hazel is something of an outsider, but her personal growth is plain to see. She almost grows because she has to, and the events of the messages unite her with other children. Through adversity comes strength!
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