Book of the Week

Weightless by Sarah Bannan. Photo: PA Photo/Bloomsbury Circus

Weightless by Sarah Bannan. Photo: PA Photo/Bloomsbury Circus

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Weightless by Sarah Bannan

Billed as a book that’ll appeal to Mean Girls fans, I was expecting good things from Weightless. Is there any more compelling backdrop than high school politics? Or any experience so intense as navigating the ups and downs of that transitional life phase, when those fledgling identities and egos are so fragile?

What I wasn’t expecting was a book that would really get under my skin and force me to reconsider my perceptions.

Like Mean Girls, American high school hierarchy (the cheerleaders, the band geeks, the Goths) and popularity rankings are central, but that’s where the similarities end. Weightless is pretty dark.

Carolyn is the new girl at Adam’s High in Adamsville, Alabama, where not much happens or changes, so her arrival - from the far more exciting and happening New Jersey - is a big deal.

She’s friendly - but also beautiful, skinny, sporty and gets good grades in everything and boys fancy her. Blessings... or a curse? She gets together with Shane, much to the distress of his previous girlfriend, cheerleader queen bee Brooke.

Things get messy. And these days, with camera phones, texting and social media, the way in which things get messy has changed. Mess accrues far more quickly. It spreads so much easier. And it has an inescapable, wide-reaching and long-lasting impact.

Carolyn is bullied. The story isn’t told from her point of view - instead, Bannan’s narrator is a nameless classmate, and the tale unfolds through observations, actions and events.

It’s immensely effective, providing a bird’s-eye view that forces you to realise that bullying and its consequences are far more complex (and at the same time, so brutally simple) than we might sometimes think, and to see how everybody, somehow, is involved or has their own perception of things.

For Carolyn, the consequences are tragic. But is she the only victim in this tale? Are the obvious bullies her only tormentors? Are witnesses as responsible as perpetrators? And has technology taken high school bullying to a whole new, terrifying level?