After hearing about it at FiveAwesomeYAFans, I read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s Diary of a Witness. The cover is really nice (you can see it here), simple and foreboding, which made me hope that maybe this was a mystery.
It was not. It was a real page-turner all the same though, so I thought I would tell you what this book is all about. Our main character is Ernie, who is an outcast in high school. His only friend is Will, and together, they manage to survive the bullying in their high school.
Until a fishing trip, where Will’s little brother dies in a freak accident. At first, his schoolmates avoid Will, but then the taunting starts, playing on Will’s guilt about his role in his brother’s death. And for the duration of the story, we watch Will tick like a time bomb, until the inevitable ending (which I won’t give away).
Meanwhile, Ernie struggles to lose weight (while his Mom orders pizza and cooks mac and cheese), but finds refuge in visiting his uncle’s cabin. Uncle Max also gives Will advice when figuring out what to do to help Will.
This book was nicely paced, with impressive detailing when it came to the fishing chapters. The characters were vivid, from the bullies, to Will as the broken kid nobody could fix, and especially Ernie. Ernie’s struggle with his weight felt very honest and real, particularly in his struggle to tell his mother about his wish to lose weight.
There are two things I wish had been different in this story. First, I wish Ernie had been a little less of a hero from the beginning. At the end of the book, Ernie sees his best friend Will as he is—but that wasn’t all that much of a change from the beginning. Ernie saves his friend twice. I think Ernie’s inner journey would have been more compelling had he decided to not save his friend the first time around. Second, I wish the adults wouldn’t have been so great throughout the story. With the exception of Will’s parents (who were almost over-the-top lousy), all adults are sympathetic to Will and Ernie’s plight, to the point that I wish this was a little less so. The reality is that a lot of us rather look away, since it's so difficult to stop bullying.
Aside from these objections, I thought Diary of a Witness was a great read, and one I recommend. Final wish: there should be more books that shine a bright light on the effects of bullying like this one did.