Thirteen-year-old Elliot Sutton is picked on and bullied at school, so when his family moves to a new house in a different area, he wants to make a fresh start at his new school. He spends his savings on a more fashionable image and succeeds in avoiding the attentions of the bullies.
In this school an elite group called The Guardians organise a reign of terror without the teachers’ knowledge. Elliot is so successful in his new guise that he is asked by The Guardians to become one of them. At the same time, he is drawn to Ben, one of the boys who is always being picked on, and to Louise, an intelligent and friendly girl who draws him out of himself. He has to balance these different lives, keeping them apart, and ultimately to decide where his priority lies.
Elliot’s character and the description of school bullying are quite real: the helplessness felt by the boys who have done nothing wrong but look different, act differently and fail to live up to some invisible standard. Elliot avoids the whole issue by restyling himself to fit in, avoiding the problem rather than confronting it. When Elliot agrees to become one of the Guardians, it is clearly not because he shares their Orwellian love of terror for terror’s sake but because his life would become unbearable if he refused. The reader realises, by virtue of his clandestine kindness to bullied Ben which burgeons into a real friendship, and the regard in which Louise holds him, that he is not like them at all.
This is an insightful and slightly sinister story of organised bullying and one boy’s attempts to reconcile the pressures on him. There is one slightly sensual description and a certain amount of bullying violence. At one point, Elliot and Louise go out, and Elliot – tutored by one of the older Guardians – takes her words of affection as inviting more intimate physical contact which he clumsily initiates. She pulls away furiously and nothing more happens. Louise later refers to the episode accepting it as an inevitable aspect of male behaviour.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.