Author: J.C. Whyte
Publication Date: June 6, 2013
Publisher: Muse it Up Publishing
Recommended Age: 7+
Reviewed by: Renee (Mother)
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Sully, and his two friends, Breeze and Gonzo, are the school bullies and everybody in the fifth grade lives in fear of them. The boys are the unchallenged rulers of the schoolyard until bad things start happening to them that are eerily similar to the damage they inflict on their victims. That’s when Sully catches sight of a strange, short creature with a big, bulbous nose, dressed in leaves and vines who is present every time something bad happens to one of the boys. Sully captures this creature, discovers he is a “karmic balancer”, and nicknames him “Karmack” for short.
As Sully begins to understand that a lifetime of misdeeds and hurtful behaviour will catch up to him and his friends, and as he draws the attention of the new girl, Vanessa who sees the good in him, he comes to a cross-roads in his life where he must choose to either continue on as a bully and suffer the negative consequences of this path, or assume the role of a leader and become someone his peers can look up to and respect. Thankfully, Karmack is in his corner to help him along.
My Thoughts: In short, Karmack is a brilliant story. I can say, in all honesty, that I have not read a book like this one before. This book is written from the perspective of a bully and the transformation of the main character from a mean-spirited bully to a strong leader is incredibly well done. I just love this book for so many different reasons!
One of the things I appreciate is the way bullying is described and discussed. Chapter 1 dives into the story with the three bullies chasing after a “squealer” (i.e., someone who “told” on Sully). When Sully finally catches up to him, he pins him to the ground, but leaves him unharmed, “just knowing he scared the living daylights out of the kid was enough for Sully.” There are many different types of bullying described in the story including intimidation, playing pranks, insults, and physical acts of violence. Karmack also explains what bullying is and why it is wrong. Karmack makes it very clear, for example, that a trick or prank still hurts even if you don’t intend to cause harm. What is more important to consider are the consequences of your actions, regardless of your intentions. Agreed!
One thing that is particularly interesting is Sully’s explanation for his bullying. He describes how everybody looks up to him and that he has a reputation to uphold as “the Big Cheese”. He has come to believe that this is done through bullying, but both Karmack and his teacher point out that he, in fact, can become a respected leader by using different methods. I love this reframing of “bullying” as “leadership” and I have heard this argument before. So, essentially when there is a child at school who engages in bullying behaviour, this child can be encouraged to build on those same personality traits and lead by good example instead.
The author has clearly spent a great deal of time thinking through what the transformation of a bully into a positive role model would look like. It is clear from the start that Sully is perceived as a “leader”, but he rules through fear. But, as he learns about his fate and the fate of his friends if he continues to hurt the people around him, he attempts to control Karmack (literally tying him up!). He then begins to show concern for and try to protect his friends Breeze and Gonzo when he learns that one more negative act will topple their skyscrapers (i.e., their bad deeds will catch up with them and cause a very negative consequence). By the end of the book, he selflessly takes the blame for something he didn’t do so that all of his friends can go on a field trip. Is this realistic? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s hopeful – and I like THAT!
When the character of Karmack is introduced, we learn that he is a “karmic balancer” for the three boys. Karmack is a very interesting character as he is portrayed as very “child-like” in his appearance (i.e., his short stature) and his speech (i.e., he speaks like a toddler). I think this allowed the author to simplify the messages in the book about “karma”. So, essentially, if any of the boys do something bad, Karmack does something similar back to them. I loved how the character of Karmack was framed as a very compassionate being – he was truly concerned about his charges and often felt sad and worried that he would not be able to balance them before their skyscraper falls over. By the way, he couldn’t…
A word about karma… I have always taught my children about the concept of karma using the actual word. I imagine that there may be some parents (or some people in general) that do not believe in karma. I have a bit of a bias, because I agree wholeheartedly with much of what is said about karma in the book. I also thought it was genius to include an Indian school girl who could add to the discussion of karma. I do want to encourage people to not overlook the book if they don’t believe in karma because I think the discussions of how our actions hurt other people are valid regardless of what you believe in and this is the main lesson that Sully learns in the book.
My Bottom Line: Karmack is a well-written, middle grade book tackling the difficult topic of bullying from the perspective of the bully. The character development is absolutely brilliant as the reader witnesses the transformation of Sully from an aggressive, angry bully to a positive role model and respected leader among his peers. While the concept of karma is not for everyone, I found myself agreeing with the main message of how our actions have consequences, intended or otherwise. I would recommend this book to middle grade classrooms as a great book to generate discussion around bullying. Ages 7+
Mom Rating: ★★★★★
Mom Rating: ★★★★★
* I was given this book free-of-charge by the author in exchange for my honest opinion. All opinions expressed are my own. The author has also participated in MDBR’s Book Promotional Services.*
About The Author, J.C. Whyte
When I was eleven, my 6th grade teacher gave the class an assignment to write a poem about an American sport. I knew my classmates would probably choose popular sports like baseball or football, so I decided to compose a poem about golf. To my surprise, the teacher found it comical and encouraged me to keep writing. So I did.
Then over summer break, students were told to choose 26 books from a reading list and write a book report on each. BLAH! I wanted to enjoy my summer, not spend it reading! Back then, I was a very slow reader and didn’t much enjoy the experience. Plus, kids didn’t have the fun books which are on the market today. But that wise teacher told my mother I could write 26 stories instead of reading them. That was absolute genius. Although I didn’t actually write 26 stories (perhaps six?), I submitted one which made my teacher laugh out loud in class. And that teacher gave me an “A” on my summer reading assignment. I’ll never forget that wise teacher who let me play to my strengths.
I knew from age eleven that I wanted to be a professional writer. Yet when I reached college, I also understood that writing stories seldom paid the bills. So I got degrees in Journalism and Communications Management. Then for many years I channeled my creative energies into the field of Public Relations.
Marriage, kids, and several more degrees and occupations later (including stints as a travel agent and paralegal), I entered law school – mostly for the challenge of writing creative arguments for the court. But while in law school, I became a columnist for the student newsletter, writing humorous pieces on the strange and quirky life of a law student. I was thrilled when one of these articles was chosen for publication in The National Jurist, a magazine distributed to law students throughout the US.
But after graduating and passing the Bar, I realized within a few years that creative writing was still what made my heart sing. So now, as a grandma, I’ve returned to writing for children. And with the publication of Karmack, I’ve come full circle, back to where my writing journey truly began.