Hamilton’s novel shows us how we become who we are, and what happens when the bully is also the victim.
Novel | 278 Pages | 5.5” x 8.5" | Reviewed: PDF ARC
978–1944697341 | First Edition | $19.95
Sagging Meniscus Press | Montclair, NJ | BUY HERE
How do we get to be the people we eventually become? We read so many books about coming of age, but what does that entail? That is one of the main focuses of Ed Hamilton’s Lords of the Schoolyard. Tommy Donaldson is at the age where things change in life, the introduction of girls and liquor into his world. For him, it seems to be his big turning point.
But what other factors go into the coming-of-age process? Hamilton explores the idea of other people playing a part in forming the people we are. The characters floating around the periphery of Tommy’s life shape him in ways of which he isn’t consciously aware: His father’s demand for him to play football. His need to be both the leader and the follower with his best friend, Johnny. The jarring encounter with Sheila, his first real girlfriend, where he showed abusive tendencies that stemmed from his confusion toward being in a real relationship. Even meeting a traveling group of Hare Krishnas. These interactions with people play a part in Tommy growing into himself. And not always for the better.
There are certain unavoidable aspects to growing up, and Lords of the Schoolyard revisits the common topic of bullying as part of childhood. Like so many others before him, Tommy has a choice to make between being the victim or being the perpetrator. In many ways, he sees himself as the victim but does not settle for the role. He takes his anger out on the younger and weaker:
“We may have been outcasts, me and Johnny, but we never took it lying down. We took it out on others instead.”
It’s here that there’s a clear contrast between Tommy and the character of Chip, one of the younger and smaller members of the football team. While Tommy rages at every perceived slight, Chip takes the harassment as the price of being part of the crowd. Though it might not win Chip any respect, it does give him a certain measure of popularity when the other players get sick of Tommy’s actions.
Where many authors have shown us what happens to the one being bullied, Hamilton shows us the effect bullying has on the bully, himself. We can actually see how Tommy’s life and mental state are changed by his treatment of those smaller and weaker than he. And we also see the way it changed his dynamic with his friends, especially when Johnny goes down a different path, which Tommy sees as another injustice.
“Like I said, Johnny had been trying to teach me a lesson. It was a lesson I was determined not to learn, but even so, I think I could have let the matter drop if not for one thing. And that was seeing Johnny sitting there at his desk actually doing his school work!”
This is a fresh and interesting take on the ‘big man on campus’ character usually seen only in the background of most novels. Often, we’re presented with two different options when it comes to this type of character: the dumb stereotypical jock who becomes the object of ridicule or the star athlete hiding his deeper soul. Hamilton gives us a third, the overly cocky, reluctant athlete who seems self-assured, but is actually lost in the world — a walking contradiction and a gray-area human being who reflects the imperfections and inconsistencies in all of us. Ultimately, this book is asking a simple question that many of us have to ask over time: After we make the journey to become ourselves, will we like who we find at the end of the road?
SEAN FAULK is a teacher in Houston, Texas. He’d much rather spend his time reading and writing. Sometimes he even finds the time to do it. He has a couple of self-published books under various names and hopes to branch out one day. In the meantime, he is just happy to read other people’s work.