(Note: This review contains some spoilers.)
“You find your people and you make your tribe and you protect each other. From the wolves.”
That’s what Eric “Frost” Voss’s mother tells him before his first day at Branton Middle School. It’s the mantra he clings to as he navigates the unfamiliar hallways, scared and lonely, until he finally does find his people. With classmates Bench, Wolf, and Deedee, all misfits like himself, Frost forms a “tribe” of guys who do everything together, from eating lunch to playing Dungeons & Dragons, and have each other’s back.
Then two things happen. First, a school-wide cell phone ban leads to students starting to communicate — and to bully each other — via sticky notes placed on each other’s lockers. And Rose, a new girl at school, makes her way into Frost’s tight-knit group. The destabilizing effects of these two events shake not just the group, but eventually the school itself, forcing students to ask themselves what they really stand for and how far they’re willing to go to protect each other.
“Posted,” by John David Anderson, paints a sobering picture of middle school. It deals with some tough topics, including divorce (Frost’s parents are divorced and Wolf’s appear to be on their way there), parental irresponsibility, sexuality, pressure to conform, and most of all bullying. Members of the various “tribes,” as Frost puts it, stick together like glue to guard themselves against the relentless, cruel teasing that goes on. Frost is afraid to talk about his love for reading and writing poetry, and his friend Wolf is afraid to talk about his musical talent, lest they be branded and shamed. Frost hopes one day to share his poetry with the world, he tells us, “but I’m sure as sushi not doing it while I’m in middle school. I’m not an idiot. I know what words can do.”
But really, it seems that a student at Branton can be branded and shamed for almost anything. Rose, a large and solidly built girl, gets slapped with the nickname “Moose” almost right away. But Rose turns out to be more resilient than most of the other students. She’s able to stand up for herself and, even better, to stand up for others. All the boys in Frost’s group, except for Wolf, are initially leery of this bold new person — a girl, at that! — crashing into their midst. But as Bench, offended by her presence, pulls away from the group, Rose begins to draw the others closer together. Her fearlessness and kindness ultimately inspire them to be better, more loyal people than they knew they could be.
“Posted” is a well-written story, told by a narrator who shows commendable growth over the course of it. While at first he’s just one of those students who tries to keep his head down and not be noticed, Frost gradually learns a few things about how to be there for a friend in need, even if it might put him at risk. Also, Anderson handles his weighty themes with understanding and respect. It’s difficult to know, however, whether all middle-schoolers will be ready to deal with them. While those who are already familiar with the reality of school bullying may be fine with the book, it may be tough for those who haven’t yet had to face it. There were moments when I thought the book actually might be more appropriate for high schoolers.
There is very little profanity in the book, aside from a couple uses of God’s name and of “hell.” (Anderson actually clearly goes out of his way several times to avoid using profanity.) Frost mentions praying occasionally, but no other religious observance is mentioned. There’s some bathroom humor, and some non-explicit descriptions of physical fights between students.
One character is severely bullied for what others believe to be his homosexuality. It’s never actually established whether the character is homosexual or not, though the occasional hint is thrown out (e.g., Rose saying she doesn’t think she’s his type). Anderson keeps the focus on the cruelty and viciousness of the bullying itself, and the pain it causes the boy. Adult aid is only occasionally enlisted during all this; most of the time, the students find it better to try to deal with these matters themselves.
The world of “Posted” is often a bleak one for its characters, both at school and at home. It shows that kids can display some of the worst aspects of human character. As the ultimately ineffective cell phone ban proves, it’s what’s in a person’s heart that matters; people denied the opportunity to be horrible to each other via text message will simply find some other way to do it. So it’s not always easy reading, though there are notes of hope and grace throughout as Rose, Frost, and others learn how to take care of each other. Parents will need to know their own middle-schoolers well and be aware of what they’re ready to handle before giving them “Posted.”