Bullying, Bodies, and Baddies

A Review of Timothy Carter’s Evil? (Flux, 2009)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Fitting perfectly with the current interest in the bullying phenomenon and finding ways to stop bullying, Timothy Carter’s Teen Fiction novel Evil? features a queer-oriented teen growing up in a small town in Northern Canada. His town is highly Christian and even teens in this town admonish people for “taking the Lord’s name in vain”.

Stuart is a teen who is unsure of his religious beliefs, feeling excluded from certain aspects of Christianity because of his queer orientation. He does what anyone who wants to find out the truth about religion does… he consults with the source, a reliable figure…. a demon. In his ritual patterns, Stuart weaves a spell requiring the demon to speak only the truth and asks him questions about Christian belief. He finds out that despite what others suggest, there is nothing evil about homosexuality: “God doesn’t care who you kiss” (30). As an outsider, this demon who hates him and only wants free is one of the closest things that Stuart has to a friend… the other is the local priest who similarly explains that homosexuality is not a sin.

Timothy Carter disrupts the notion of the small town as a haven and location of rural safety when he illustrates what can happen in a small town to a queer teen. Although Stuart’s mother moved to the small town to keep his family safe from the dangers of urban regions, Stuart finds himself without friends and fundamentally abject (made an outsider) – his classmates will use homophobic comments with the words “no offense” as a means of disarming the implied hatred their words embody.

Eventually, Stuart faces mob violence, but, oddly enough it is not for his homosexuality, but because he is caught masturbating in the shower. The town begins a religious crusade against the crime of “spilling”, the Sin of Onan. He is subjected to bullying by schoolmates, teachers, humiliated publically and the victim of violence. Surprised that masturbation is the thing that causes religious mob violence against him instead of his homosexuality, Stuart starts to inquire about the motivation for hate crimes and discovers that a supernatural being is behind the sudden surge in hatred. It is only through gathering together a small band of outsiders, a priest, a demon, and a general attitude of acceptance that Stuart can begin to fight the tide of evil that has submerged his town.

Although masturbation is used by Timothy Carter as the vehicle for discussing issues of violence against social outsiders, and although he attributes a supernatural cause to the bullying, he is pointing to an overall issue of violence in the schools against students who are treated as social outcasts: queer-identified students, racialised students, students of diverse backgrounds and beliefs. Carter brings our attention to the wider issues of violence that occurs in the schools and how embedded it is in our behaviours. He uses the supernatural as a mechanism for pointing out the absurdity of the bullying phenomenon and the need for real social change to prevent the issues the underlay bullying.

Evil? displays Timothy Carter’s incredible sense of humour while dealing with deep issues like the entrenched nature of homophobia, body shame, fear of sexual expression, and bullying. It is a fundamentally deep teen fiction book that calls the reader to question the origin of ideas of hatred and their impact on teen lives. It asks the reader to question everything and to determine their own belief systems. Carter expresses the importance of teens deciding their own truths and finding their own path.

Despite the religious questions evoked by the story, ultimately it has a pro-Christian, or at least pro-belief-in-something-like-the-Christian-God message. Despite not wanting to be like biased, dogmatic Christians, Stuart is forced to engage in questions of faith and debate about whether he is being dogmatic in his own rejection of the notion of a higher power. Despite the religious message, as a non-Christian reading this book, I found it entertaining, hilarious, and great at asking tough questions.

Author photo courtesy of Timothy Carter

This book would be an excellent one to suggest to a teen struggling with questions of identity, religion, bullying, or concerns about the body. It would be a great addition to a school or public library so that teens can peruse it in privacy if they are worried about attracting attention from bullies.  Adult readers will find this book interesting for the depth of the story, the questions it evokes, the development of the characters, and the general humour that animates the text.

You can find out more about Timothy Carter at http://timothycarterworld.com/ and read more about Evil? and his other novels.

Derek Newman-Stille

7 Responses

  1. As a fan of alliteration, I must say, I loved your title! 🙂

    Evil? sounds like a good book to help those struggling with the bullying issue. While working in the schools, I’ve had to talk to kids about bullying, so I’m interested in checking out this book. 🙂

    • Alliterative titles are just too much fun. I have to occasionally use them 🙂

      I am really glad to hear that you have been working with kids about bullying. It is such a huge issue and as a society we often underestimate the impact that bullying has on youth. We dismiss it casually with words like “kids will be kids” and “in my day…”, but by doing so, we often ignore the wider, systemic problems that underly bullying like racism, homophobia, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. I am really glad to see that, as a society, we are starting to put more emphasis on supporting kids who have been bullied and trying to reverse some of the mindsets that create a bullying atmosphere. AND I am so happy to hear that you have worked with kids about bullying.

      • Thanks! It’s an issue that deeply affected my son. Unfortunately, the bully in question had a bully for a father who didn’t help enforce any of the strategies presented to the student at school. As a result, the student ‘played’ the administrators by ‘tattling’ on kids he claimed were bullying in the playground. We as parents of a bullied child were almost to the point that, if the bully laid a physical hand on our son, we would bring charges against him. Up until that time it had mostly been intimidation. Fortunately it came to a head when I confronted him and a group of his friends as they were surrounding him on his way home from school. As I approached they all ran away and I went to the school the next day to tell the principal what I thought of their bullying policies. That was at the end of the school year in which the bully moved on to junior high where he was no longer the big fish in the pond. Things settled down after that, but whenever I see bullying in the schoolyard or the classroom, I definitely call the kid on it and try to reason with them. It doesn’t always work, but at least I feel as though I’m doing what I can.

        • Well done. I think more parents should do what you do and participate in working with the school board to prevent bulling. It is harder for administrators to ignore bullying when parents bring it up.

          • That’s so true! The biggest problem, though, can often be the parents’ refusal to accept that their child is a bully, or they don’t care because they’ve been bullies all their life, too, as in our case. When confronted with the fact that his son was bullying another child, he said that the other child was asking for it if he didn’t fight back!

  2. What an amazing post, and so close to home for so many of us, either bullied ourselves, or with children who we fear will be dealt the same cards. We are lucky to live in a society now that acknowledges bullying as an actual issue, and shows kids and parents how to be more tolerant of each other, and not worry what the other guy thinks. Thanks for the post.

    • Thank you!! I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did. I still think we have a long way to go in working on the systemic issues that underly bullying, but the important thing is that it is starting to be looked at. Books like this one and others that deal with issues of bullying are hugely important in shifting people’s mindset toward one of inclusion. The first part of getting rid of bullying is acknowledging that it is there and that it IS an issue.

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