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Diary of a Witness    by Catherine Ryan Hyde order for
Diary of a Witness
by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

There have been quite a few books written about high school violence and what leads up to it. Catherine Ryan Hyde's Diary of a Witness is one of the better ones, taking the perspective of someone close to the epicenter of the quake getting ready to erupt and damage many lives.

Ernie and Will Manson are best friends, not only for their shared interest in fishing, but because the school jocks mercilessly and constantly bully them. Ernie is seriously overweight and Will is new to the school and geeky. The adults in their lives are oblivious - Will's single father and Ernie's single mother uncaring or unaware, and their teachers mostly blind to what goes on. Ernie is very fortunate in having a lifeline in his Uncle Max (who supports him and gives sage advice), but Will is further battered by a family tragedy that leaves him feeling guilty and without any support at all, aside from what Ernie can give him.

As Will and Ernie's situation escalates, with unfortunate missteps by both bullies and bullied, the friends react in different ways. Will reminds Ernie that the jocks 'can't let you step up. They won't let your life get better. It's all about holding us down.' Ernie thinks Will is right but doesn't like the changes he's seeing in his friend. Of course you can see where this story is going. It ends in a painful coming of age for Ernie, who has to make tough decisions and grow up fast. He finally concludes that 'It always seems to boil down to the issue of respect.'

Though I had some difficulty with the way Uncle Max handled Ernie's communication with him - in real life, an adult simply could not leave that kind of decision up to an adolescent - it is a plot device that emphasizes the importance of the role of a witness - either to bullying or to violence - and their responsibility to act. I highly recommend Diary of a Witness to you as a thought-provoking and empathetic story on an important subject.

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