Catie's Reviews > Scrawl

Scrawl by Mark Shulman
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bookshelves: read-in-2011, middle-grade, ya, audio, book-club-social-issues

Well, if you’re looking to get deep into the mind of a bully, this ain’t it. (Go check out Courtney Summers instead.) That’s because Tod Munn isn’t really a bully. Or if he is, he’s a rather benevolent one. He’s also on the honor roll, has perfect attendance, and is a pretty talented seamstress (seamster?). He’s well-read, a fantastic speller, and doesn’t use drugs or drink or even swear.

And okay, yes, this book is written as a series of journal entries from Tod to his guidance counselor so maybe he's heavily editing/putting a good spin on his own behavior. But I just never got that impression. Even when Tod begins writing in his own private notebook, the journal entries don’t become any more explicit. I never felt like he was lying to me…and I love narrators that lie to me.

However, for what this is – essentially the story of a good kid, forced to deal with poverty, absent parents, and teachers who’ve labeled him the bad kid – it’s an enjoyable read. It’s very rewarding to see Tod discover writing as both a release and a way to examine his own life and try to make it better.

I grew up in similar circumstances as this main character. I can still remember clearly all the mortification that I felt at being poor, using free lunch tickets, having no clothes to wear, no food at home, no parents. I remember shame, selfish desperation, and learned resourcefulness. Unfortunately, this book did not make me recall any of those feelings. In one way I am thankful for that, because I don’t enjoy reliving those memories. But this book would have earned more of my respect if it had challenged me.

Everything here feels toned down and oversimplified. Tod’s home life seems hard, but then much of it is explained away. His bullying, rather tame to begin with, is brushed aside with “mitigating” factors. In fact, Tod isn’t even the real bully…he’s the victim! Of course. The ending is just ridiculous. Tod takes almost no responsibility for anything that he’s done, but when the real bully is finally revealed, no consideration is given to his/her mitigating circumstances. He/she is just plain mean. So yes…let’s all take a walk in Tod’s shoes and understand just where he’s coming from…but everyone else? Nah.

Perfect Musical Pairing

Queen – Under Pressure

This song makes me feel all the emotion about poverty, hunger, and compassion that I think this book is lacking. Put it on after finishing this book if you feel the same way! Or, you could just play it right now…because Queen is one of the greatest bands of all time. You’re welcome.

Also seen on The Readventurer.
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Reading Progress

December 5, 2011 – Started Reading
December 7, 2011 – Shelved
December 7, 2011 – Shelved as: read-in-2011
December 7, 2011 – Shelved as: middle-grade
December 7, 2011 – Shelved as: ya
December 7, 2011 – Finished Reading
February 9, 2014 – Shelved as: audio
October 16, 2016 – Shelved as: book-club-social-issues

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Tatiana (new) - added it

Tatiana I remember trying to read this and being turned off by the book's fakiness within probably first 5 pages. The voice of the narrator never struck me as authentic.


Catie Yeah, he definitely doesn't seem like a real teenage boy, much less a real teenage delinquent.


message 3: by Shy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Shy Robin I thought this was a great book. So what if he isn't as bad as you'd like. This was a really intriguing character. Try to see past the "bully of the week" maybe? This was a just plain interesting and complex dude. And remember, he's the guy telling the story. So of course he's going to skew everyone else. Give it another look.


Catie I'm glad you loved this book, Shy. It sounds like you have some strong opinions about it. Why not write your own review? I feel very secure in the way I felt - but then, we don't all have to agree do we?


message 5: by Jerry (new)

Jerry Bennett I agree with you that Tod came off as sort of toned down for the huge and scary bully that he was supposed to be playing. There weren't very many instances in where Tod seemed like a bully at all. Sure, there were the occasional random harassing that he did, but overall he didn't really strike me as vicious.

I think it might have to do with balance. It's hard to like a bully, but's it's easy to like a good kid in the wrong crowd. If Tod was really as vicious as he seemed, he really wouldn't be that like-able as a main character. But it still seemed weird having all these people running scared when he didn't seem to do anything at all.


Catie I do not require my main characters to be likeable so this probably just wasn't for me.


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