Allison's Book Bag

Veronica Ganz by Marilyn Sachs

Posted on: October 31, 2013

One on the most famous bullies in children’s literature, Veronica Ganz has never met her match. Until Peter. He taunts her with chants, puts thumbtacks on her chair, and systematically avoids being beaten up by her. Can Veronica find a way to teach him who is boss? Should she even try? Forty-five years after its publication in 1968, Veronica Ganz by Marilyn Sachs is still available but has started to show its age.

Girls wearing skirts. Students cleaning chalkboard erasers. Teens with clean language. Bikes and curtains costing only five dollars. As I discovered Veronica Ganz for the first time, I wondered whether it would stand the test of time. In many ways it does. Students still hate school. Many families still live in apartment complexes and dream of a better life. Divorce is still prevalent. And bullying has become one of the hot topics in children’s fiction. Not only is Veronica a bully, but she now faces an opponent who might be tougher than her. In its conclusion, however, I do feel that Veronica Ganz shows its age.

Before I talk about that conclusion, I’d like to share some of my assorted reactions to this classic middle-school novel. There are a few things I didn’t like. Such as the mom screaming all the time! Actually, Veronica and her sister seem to scream a lot too. Speaking of her sister, all Mary Rose seems to ever do is cry and whine. Also, there are the occasional lapses in viewpoint. In one instance, Sachs is writing about Veronica’s offer to water her teacher’s plants, but suddenly the viewpoint shifts to that of the teacher. If the entire novel had been written from the omniscient viewpoint that would one thing. But it isn’t. And so these switches felt random.

There are also numerous parts I enjoyed. For example, as much as she complains about him, Veronica obviously cares for her brother, who has the unusual quirk of hiccupping when things go wrong. and who Sachs has developed more fully than Mary Rose. I like that the step dad is not evil, and that his worst trait is that he doesn’t stand up enough for himself. Last, it’s hilarious how Peter, who is smaller than Veronica, continually manages to avoid being caught by her. One time, he even tricks her into following him into a fish market, and then dumps a bucket of fish bones on her head.

Physical bullying at school, as depicted in th...

Physical bullying at school, as depicted in the film Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, there’s still that conclusion to reckon with. First, I think the change in Veronica comes too quickly. At least three-quarters of the book is about the war between Veronica and Peter. Although Sachs had herself been a victim of bullying, the bullying scenes are far more fun to read than the scenes in which Veronica reflects on her behavior. They’re also more believable, due to how much space is dedicated to them. Rightly or wrongly, today’s novels would flip the emphasis. Second (SPOILER ALERT!), only a few chapters in I feared that Sachs would fall into a common cliché found in older novels., and indeed she did. And so, we read that Veronica discovers the pleasures of being a girl. Specifically, she learns that if she cries, she’ll receive sympathy. Oh, and it’s actually kind of fun that Peter bullies her, because…. Well, maybe that means he enjoys sparring with her. And, of course, she likes him. This cliché has worked for me in other books, but doesn’t here because Veronica ends up with a bloody face after one such bullying incident. Should we really be teaching girls that even playful physical abuse is a good thing, and that the abusive boys are the ones who like them the most?

I almost wish Sachs had simply allowed Veronica to remain a bully. Instead, in the final pages, she portrays Veronica as feeling lonely because of her choices, and afraid now that she has become the hunted. If Veronica did need to become a different person, then more chapters should have been allotted to showing the complexity of why someone might become a bully, why they might eventually turn their life around, and how difficult that can be.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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