A Guest Review by Sammy
Review Summary: A gut-wrenching look at the effects of bullying that resolves into a life-affirming future for one young man.
Blurb: Jacob Stevens is a high school freshman facing an onslaught of constant bullying. When the unthinkable happens and he falls victim to a cruel prank, he and a small circle of friends band together to form a Losers’ Club. By embracing the name their tormentors have assigned them, they reclaim their power and try to fight back. With the help of a mysterious stranger, Jacob finds the strength he needs to stand up for himself and his friends, a group of losers like himself.
Review: If you know anything of author Jeff Erno, then you know he is an outspoken advocate of Zero Tolerance when it comes to bullying. He has written eloquent novels sharing his views and time after time peeling back the curtain that tends to hide the ugliness and destruction that high school bullying leaves in its wake. I respect this author for not only his voice that cries out in a sea of complacency but his emotional and hard hitting stories that rouse the reader to want to do something that will make this a better world for every teen who has had to suffer the shame and pain of a carelessly uttered taunt or jibe, or worse physical and emotional violence.
His latest novella, Losers, once again takes an unflinching look at the impact of relentless bullying and the grim reality of what happens to teens who simply cannot take it any longer. Thankfully, Jeff gives our here, Jacob Stevens, a small group of friends who rally round him and support him. Still, he lets us know over and over that, although we can be sympathetic, we really cannot understand what it is like to be called a faggot unless we have walked in those shoes.
He introduces a touch of the paranormal here as well, in the form of a character who guides and helps Jacob initially, supporting him emotionally and pulling him back from the edge. When Jacob and his friend Bennie realize exactly who…or what…has been helping Jacob, whom Jacob has fancied himself falling in love with, well, it makes for some very gripping reading.
This story started off strong and ended well, but, in the middle, it lost its way a bit. I wanted to understand more about Jacob’s friends–their trials, their pain, but each time Mr. Erno opened the door to this group, he firmly shut it down, instead tending to focus only on what was happening to Jacob. After a while, the constant reminder of the hell that Jacob was living began to take on the aspect of a rant–yes, it was appalling, yes it was horrible, but gay teens are not the only ones suffering here.
I felt that Mr. Erno missed the opportunity to give a more universal statement about bullying and chose to keep it so tightly focused on just gay bashing that he diminished his message in the end. Jacob, with the help of his circle of friends could have opened the door to a whole world of teenage despair. I understand that this was a gay YA novella but by developing the back-story of all these straight “loser” friends, the author could have drawn in a wider audience for his most important message. Instead with the focus locked firmly on Jacob, we saw a more narrow view of HUGE problem suffered by many, both gay and straight.
The other place I really felt this novel faltered was in the character and ineffectiveness of the Principal of the high school. While I do not want to give a way the shocking plot point that catapults Jacob into the limelight, I also know that the event in question would have garnered much more attention than the author chose to give it. I have worked in schools for 20 plus years and while many are slow to change, even rural communities would have pursued this level of crime on school grounds. She was so very “out of the loop” and adrift–truly she bordered on just unbelievable for me.
However, the novel ends with such a positive tone and an emotional reminder of what bullying can and does lead to, all too often in the real world. Losers, by Jeff Erno is an important work of fiction, and my only wish is that the author could have taken more time to develop his secondary characters and thereby broadened the audience base so that more people could be made aware of the terrible reality that so many teens live with every day.