Not a Funny Story by Emily Franklin

Not a Funny Story
By Emily Franklin

A note to readers: I planned on making this essay funny. I thought I’d write a sarcastic, amusing letter to a former bully or the girl who made me feel crappy in eighth grade. I am funny. Really. My novels are filled with wry humor and wit. And yet, when I sat down to write about this particular incident, funny isn’t what came out.

Say it’s sixth or seventh grade and say you’re one of those girls who is not quite in one group and not quite in another. You can’t be categorized. You don’t know this at the time, but some girls find this a problem. People like to have you fit neatly into one social heading: alpha girls, bookish girls, poor girls. You—h happily—float from one group to the next.

This means that while you are welcome in all the groups, you are integral to none of them. No one waits for you to go to lunch. No one feels their party is incomplete without you. On the other hand, you always have a place to sit and can chat equally well with B about her new hair cut and crush on A or S about her parents’ divorce or C about writing stories, which you both love to do.

When X announces her sleepover, you can’t wait to attend. There will be laughter way late at night, food tucked into bathrobes, dares and truths about boys, private jokes to reference the following Monday.

But then you can’t make it. Not because you don’t want to—nothing sounds better than sitting with your knees tucked to your chin while X braids your hair or asks who you like. But you’ve got a high fever, a serious infection—again—and wind up missing not only the sleepover but the whole following week of school.

When you enter the classroom on Monday morning, hang up your red book bag on its metal hook, you see W and wave, looking forward to hearing every details of the sleepover jokes and conversations you missed. But W turns away from you. So do K and B. In fact, no one will make eye contact with you, and when you decide it’s not just your imagination, you approach E and B and say, “Hey, what’s going on?” they turn away.

You experience the same feelings as watching the scary movies everyone else loves but you hate: chills, rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, fear, that sickening pull in your gut. You try again, just to talk to someone. Anyone. But even the people who have no one to talk to—the girl who doesn’t wash her hair, the boy who still picks his nose—they won’t speak to you.

Finally, S with her sad eyes, divorced parents, and tiny voice, says, “Just so you know, I didn’t sign it.”

You ask what she means.

“The petition. The one W wrote.”

This is what happened when you were away. You missed the sleepover and W moved in for the kill. You never realized she was jockeying for some social position, or how it’s always a game, even if you chose not to play it. So W writes a document, forms a club called the I Hate [Your Name Here] club. Like all clubs, it has focus, a sole goal: hating you. She works on it the whole week and convinces some kids easily. They are eager to please W and sign without question. Others take work—W has to persuade them, make them long to be part of the majority of haters, woo them with campaign promises. She is the president of the club.

But there are those who will not be so easily conned or swayed. For them, W offers them to the chance to just be in the band. It’s like a lesser form of hating. You just sing the club’s theme song. But still, you can’t speak to the subject.

S is the only person in the entire grade who joins neither the band nor the club.

I could tell you how this is all real, how hellish it was, how alone I felt, or how I rallied. I called W’s second-in-command and when she hung up on me, I went right to her mother. Once I involved the parents, the club crumbled, but the damages were never addressed, just absorbed into everyday life.

We should have talked about it. We should have all spoken with teachers and parents. I never did.

I tell this story to my own children so that they will tell me, so they will speak.

But mainly, I tell my children so that they will be like S and stand up—though standing up is difficult and sometimes dangerous. I tell my children this because it is easy to pass it off as a funny incident that happened a long time ago. I tell them now because as a parent I am amazed at how quick people are to say “Well, girls are mean at that age” or “Everyone does stuff like that at one point or another” or “I wouldn’t go back to that age if you paid me a million dollars.” Where do you draw the line between not being nice and being cruel? At what point is it unacceptable? How threatened can you feel going to school each day?

I tell this story now because it should have been told then. Because out of a class of sixty people, only one of was by my side. Only one said no.

Emily Franklin is the author of over a dozen books for teens, including two critically-acclaimed series, The Principles of Love and The Other Half of Me. Emily’s other young adult titles include the novels in the Chalet Girls series, and the forthcoming Half-Life of Planets. She has also written two novels for adults, Liner Notes and The Girls’ Almanac. She also edited the anthologies It’s a Wonderful Lie: 26 Truths about Life in Your Twenties and How to Spell Chanukah: 18 Writers on 8 Nights of Lights. Check out her website at

15 thoughts on “Not a Funny Story by Emily Franklin

  1. Mr. Halpin referred me here, and I enjoyed your insights. As a moderately bullied kid that then had a spell as a wildly successful bully, I came away with these pieces of advice for my offspring:
    “It is not your job to ruin anybody’s day. It is certainly not your job to ruin anybody’s life.” AND “Sometimes kids will test their powers on you. It gets personal, but it is really about them testing their powers, and they might be learning why not to be evil really near you. Sometimes that happens.”
    I now try to be as good an adult presence as I had available to me. Presenting a graceful path to back off and start over is a great gift.

  2. You’re right bullying is not funny. I created an anti-bullying website,, to give victims of bullying a public forum to speak out. They can post paintings, drawings, poetry, short stories, videos, photographs, etc. to tell their personal stories. I was bullied as a child because I was poor, skinny, and motherless. Together, with a young man (I begin mentoring him at 4 years old) we created this site so victims who have no one to tell, can do so by using their creative voices. Thanks for writing this story. Linda Regula

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Emily. I’m a YA writer too and ironically found out about this blog the day before I found out my daughter is facing this exact thing, only her two best friends are the ring leaders and I happen to (have been) friends with one of the girl’s parents. Yeah, omg. When I approached (my now ex-friend – biggest instigator) she turned it on me and said this whole thing could have been prevented if I came to her sooner when I suspected my daughter was having a hard time at school. I did notice my daughter was very quiet and depressed, but she was scared to tell me anything because she knew I would lose a friend too. Yikes. Today I will show her your post so she knows she’s not alone in dealing with this issue. I will also direct her to Linda’s site. Thank you both for sharing.

  4. Boy do I wish I was a better writing or had better grammer….I too was severely bullied as a child from about the age of 5 right up till about 19. It took another 20 years, now almost 40 to rid myself of a lifetime low self esteem.

    If I in fact had better writing skills or grammer I’d contribute my story to your site.

    Thanks for sharing all of your stories.

    Its still incredible to me how we as human beings with the intelligence we have still don’t get it.

    again thanks for sharing your stories.


    • Kevin, I wish you would share your story and not worry about the grammar!! I’m a school counselor and a youth therapist and would love to share your story in the lessons that I do. I love this blog, just discovered it today!!

  5. Great story, Emily. 🙂 And you are right; bullying isn’t funny at all. It’s actually very serious. And I’m glad to sometimes write about bullying in some of the fanfics I write (as I write fanfiction of my favorite books, TV shows and movies, among other things). 🙂

  6. Thank you for writing this. I experienced a nearly identical situation at work! Petition and everything. We teach our children that there are so many grey areas in life. Our kids grow up to believe in the grey areas as adults. Perhaps we need to be teaching our young adults through literature that might doesn’t always make right. Going along with a bully or in this case bullies doesn’t make one part of the group. It makes one, by choice, a person who will not stand up for or respect another’s differences.

  7. Hello there! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for
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  8. I’ve recently completed this marvelous book, “Dear Bully,” for my English Language AP class and I must say, job WELL done! I was marveled from the very beginning at how seventy famous authors joined hands to deliver such a touching piece of work. Hooked from the beginning, I couldn’t put this book down unless I was connecting each particular author’s story to my own or to those around me. I have always been a big advocate on the topic of anti-bullying, and this book heightened my advocacy. With every word, every single word, I could vividly picture those situations happening in the very halls of my high school and every other one across the world.

    With bravery and concern, these authors detailed their own personal experiences in this book not only for their benefit, but to touch all readers. From accounts of being bullied, witnessing bullying, and even being the bully in some cases, these collections spoke to me, just as I’m sure it did for other fellow readers. While reading this collection, I occasionally found tears falling from my eyes as I remembered what it was like being bullied in middle school. I didn’t have this book to comfort me then, but I’m positive this novel would be of assistance to anyone associated with bullying. Bullying is NO laughing matter. It is a very serious epidemic and it NEEDS to be handled as such. Bullying is a part of society, but it shouldn’t be. Bullying shouldn’t be classified as “normal” because anything that hurts or shoots daggers at someone is NOT normal. Hurting is NOT normal.
    I would recommend this book to every single person in the world; of any age. In my opinion, every student in every school should be required to read these seventy author’s accounts of bullying. It might save their life or provide inspiration just as it did for me. There are millions of teenagers out there experiencing the same problems as the authors included in this book experienced. Bullying hasn’t disappeared. It won’t go away with a snap of a finger; but the authors in this book really helped this process. I commend everyone who contributed to this emotional and riveting novel including Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones. This will be the book that my own kids will read when that time comes and I’m very grateful to have happened upon this novel. Again, and I cannot say it enough, remarkable job well done; but the story isn’t over yet.

    Taylor Felton

  9. I myself agree that there is nothing funny about bullying. Bullying is a serious subject that, in my opinion, should be talked about instead of being hushed up. Of course, stories about bullying are very unique. 🙂

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