Book review

Tell Me No Lies by Malorie Blackman (1999)

A book about bullying which gives us an insight into the bully's mind. Here we find a genuinely confused child - confused not only about her own difficult family background, but also about how and why she has become a bully. Especially since the boy she is bullying is a boy she rather likes.

Gemma is bereft. (That's a poetic past tense of bereave.) She has lost her mother, a long time ago when she was quite young, and she spends her spare time cutting out pictures of mothers and their children from the newspapers. They all go into a series of scrapbooks. Gemma believes her own mother to be dead, and I for one, was very distressed to hear from the careless mouth of her churlish brother that her mother in fact abandoned them all years ago, and her whereabouts are now unknown. Father and brother conspired to keep the truth from Gemma. That is the kind of family Gemma is up against.

Enter Mike. A new boy at the school. Also living in difficult circumstances. He is staying with his grandparents while his mother serves a ten year prison sentence for the manslaughter of Mike's father. This is not the kind of information you want circulating round your new school while you try to settle your feet in under the desk. Gemma recognizes Mike from her newspaper cuttings and Bingo! - she immediately feels the thrill of personal power. She has a secret hold over Mike.

The fascinating thing is that she has nothing against Mike, and really considers herself to be half-way towards being his friend. She certainly doesn't need or want the money that she takes from him.

Now, Malorie Blackman does not give this story my preferred ending. In an ideal world Gemma and Mike would come to an understanding and Gemma would put right all the wrongs she has caused. But this story is set in the real world. Here, after a change of heart, Gemma has to be very brave and work herself up to the state where she can publicly announce a cover story which saves her own skin and puts Mike in the clear. It's a compromise which the rest of the world seems willing to accept for the sake of a quiet life.

I can't say I blame Mike for still feeling a little aggrieved. Gemma asks him:

'So we're all square now?'
'Not even close,' Mike whispered.

They obviously don't walk off into the sunset together at the end of this book, but there does seem to be a foundation for some kind of proper friendship later on. And with that we have to be content.

Good book. Written in very short chapters with lots of quick scene shifts. A lot of dialogue. Doesn't take long to read, but I did find myself mulling over it afterwards.

What can I read next?

Malorie Blackman has written lots of good books. You could look at her latest one:

  • Noughts and Crosses

If you enjoy books about difficulties at school, you might like to look at these by Michael Coleman:

  • Tag
  • Weirdo's War

I think you might really enjoy this one by Anne Fine. It's quite light-hearted but is a serious story:

And this one by Benjamin Zephaniah might interest you:

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Tell Me No Lies features in these lists: