The Mystery of the Cyber Bully

Canadian teacher magazine (Jan/Feb 2012)
What school-aged child doesn’t know about bullies and bullying? This is an action-packed mystery aimed at younger readers with a focus on the emergence of bullying through the perceived anonymity of the Internet. It is filled with metaphors and similes, allowing children to create vivid images of the story in their mind making the answer to the mystery itself the only struggle throughout the book.

Marty, Remi and Trina are three friends who are well known in the grade six class for solving mysteries. The trio work together—armed with their friendship, walkie-talkies and sleuthing skills—each contributing their unique gifts to solve the mystery of the cyber bully. It begins with just one student in the class, then suddenly it seems as though everyone is the target of emails, messages or online posts aiming to embarrass or hurt them. Samantha is picked on because of her fashion, Mikayla because of her social life, Nathan, his karate skills. No one is safe.

This book brings awareness to bullying, as Marty says, “Bullies don’t need a reason. They need victims.” (p. 54). The book is also useful for introducing the dangers of the Internet and helping kids understand how to get help if they know that someone is being bullied online: “Cyber bullies pick on their victims through the Internet. At least with a real bully, you were safe at home. With cyber bullies, home was the worst place to be, unless you didn’t have a computer, because they could send you messages anywhere and at any time. Often, they hid their identities. Some kids believed this was because schools had strict no cyber-bullying policies, but I believed it was because cyber bullies were cowards.” (p. 52)

Classroom Connections: This is an excellent short text to open discussions on Internet safety, character education (including social groupings, good friends and bad friends) and anti-bullying strategies and would make a great novel study before November’s Bullying Awareness and Prevention weeks. You could also use this book to investigate dialogue in reading and writing as well as using similes and metaphors (especially around April for poetry month). Reading Comprehension Strategies: Making Predictions, Inferring, Visualizing.

—Review by Amanda Parker

CM Magazine Volume XVII Number 19, January 21, 2011


… I hated being the butt of jokes, because it reminded me of how hard it was to fit in. I fired back, “ Nathan, everyone knows the only reason why you have a black belt is because your father owns the dojo.”

The kids let out an eager gasp. He ground his foot into the pavement, grinding a few pebbles under his sneakers. “No one insults my father's dojo. Apologize now.”

A hush fell over everyone. Their waiting stares reminded me of basketball fans watching a free throw. The ball bounced off the rim and hit the backboard then circled the rim. Everyone waited for the ball to fall through the hoop and they waited for Nathan's reaction. He headed toward me. I backpedalled until my back slammed against the wall. I pushed my back against the bricks, hoping the nuns who once used the school as their convent had built a secret entrance in the wall, but all I felt was the hard surface and some wads of gum. I was pretty sure I was going to become one of those crushed wads.

 The Mystery of the Cyber Bully, the fourth novel in the “Marty Chan Mystery Series,” tackles the social issue of cyber bullying. Marty is now in Grade 6 and on the cusp of puberty. As the son of the only Chinese family in the small town of Bouvier, AB, Marty knows what it's like to be an outsider.

The novel begins with Remi and Marty “walking the beat” in Marty's father's grocery store. After falsely accusing an adult of shoplifting, the boys chase and tackle their teenage suspect and intimidate her into emptying her pockets. They threaten to “Call her parents. Call the cops. Maybe even call the Bouvier Herald.” This is not the good-humoured, kindhearted Marty from the previous novels. Have his prepubescent hormones turned him into an aggressive, meanspirited, dare I say it, bully? Shortly after this browbeating, the suspect discloses that she has been the recipient of demeaning emails, and Marty and friends vow to track down the bully. In their mission to discover the enemy, their trail leads them to the public library. The description of the librarian was disappointing as the author trots out old, shopworn, tired clichés. She is cranky, hawk nosed, with a pencil in her bun and a “Silence is Golden” sign on her counter. This is the negative stereotype librarians have been battling for decades.

All of the adults are portrayed as remote, one dimensional figures. Marty's mother is also described in clichéd terms. Now pregnant, she is depicted eating a pickle with ice cream. Both Marty's mother and father appear remote and disengaged from Marty's life.

Principal Henday is probably the only adult who commands a modicum of respect and to his credit has set a strict no bullying policy at the school. Marty does suggest to the victim that she approach the principal with her concerns, but at no time is an adult approached for help.

The author offers some methods of dealing with a bully. For example, instead of remaining silent bystanders, the friends become allies in protecting and supporting each other. One of the best ways to disarm a bully is to be an outspoken witness and stand up for the victim. At the climax, Marty faces the bully down rather than giving in. In this respect, he provides a strong and confident model.

When the culprit is finally exposed, the resolution was never revealed (There was a brief threat of expulsion earlier in the novel). The various responses for proactive correction could have been provided, but the novel ends abruptly without a discussion of the consequences. An addendum with a list of practical techniques for the prevention and intervention of cyber bullying behaviour, along with resources for children, parents and educators, would have been useful.

While the previous three titles in the series are sure fire winners and have been shortlisted for awards, including the Edmonton Book Prize, this title is not recommended. Cyber bullying is an issue that can have serious consequences for victims, and Chan could have handled it in a more responsible manner.— Jane Bridle

Not recommended.

Jane Bridle is a librarian with Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.

Resource Links, Vol 16, #3, February 2011

Marty Chan, the protago­nist who is the namesake of the author himself, is back in his 4th mystery. Marty is once again pitted against a bully — this time online. He, along with his best friends Remi and Trina. are deter­mined to uncover who has been sending nasty e-mails to several of their classmates, while dealing with issues in their own relationships with each other.

The story opens with Marty and Remi skulk­ing around Marty's parent's corner store, trying to catch a shoplifter in the act. When the thief — their goth classmate Samantha — manages to escape from the store, they chase her down and discover that she has indeed swiped the nail polish that they saw her eyeing up. Unfortu­nately, this storyline goes on for nearly a quar­ter of the book and ultimately doesn't tie in much at all with the main plot.

Samantha confides that she is the victim of a cyber bully, and soon after Marty himself be­gins to receive hate e-mail as well. Marty, Remi, and Trina go through a string of suspects, establishing alibis for most, before finally set­tling on Makayla, the misfit computer geek girl in their class. Marty goes “undercover” by pre­tending to have a crush on Makayla in order to win her trust, and hopefully gain access to her computer. While doing so, he is embarrassed to find out that Makayla genuinely has a thing for him. When he discovers that the cyber bully is targeting Makayla as well, he decides that the two of them should join forces.

During their investigation, Marty inadver­tently learns that Remi has been accepted to a sports school in Edmonton, a fact that he has chosen not to share with his supposed best friend. Marty's feelings are understandably wounded, and he lashes out at Remi as a result. In response. Remi begins to hang around with Nathan Black, a self-declared martial arts guru and Marty's mortal enemy. He also happens to be the person that Marty now suspects of being the cyber bully.

Thanks to Makayla's genius with computers, she is able to get the IP address of the cyber bully and run a program to gather the GPS co­ordinates from where the emails are being sent (which is actually a Hollywood-ish impossibil­ity). This leads the kids to Nathan's dojo, where the mystery is finally revealed.

Overall, the plot of the story was fairly enjoy­able, but I found the voice of the characters somewhat implausible; particularly the scenes that involve Marty and Remi's crime fighting. Kids in Grade 6 just don't speak like a crime-fighting duo from a cheesy 70's cop show!

Buy if the previous books in the series are popular, but otherwise it should be considered an additional selection. — Nicole Rowlinson

Thematic Links: Cyber Bullying; Friendship;