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May 2015


Bad Behaviour (Rebecca Starford)

Scroll back a few posts and you will come across my review of Alice Pung's recent novel Laurinda, an unsettling story of the nastiness that teenage girls can inflict upon each other in an "exclusive" girls school setting. When the opportunity arose to delve into another account of the sinister world of privileged teenage girls and their power plays, I eagerly nabbed the chance. And so enter Bad Behaviour, author Rebecca Starford's personal memoir of her year in an exclusive outdoor education school in Victoria, Australia,

Just like the good old "train wreck" from which you can't look away, the behaviour of these girls towards each other, and particularly towards the weak, is both compelling and disturbing.  Read any review of Bad Behaviour and Lord of the Flies is bound to be mentioned at least once.  To be fair, it's hard not to think of William Golding's classic when reading Starford's memoir.  What is it about teenagers in isolated group situations that encourages the worst (and best) of human behaviour?  Fear, uncertainly, self-preservation and the desire to belong are often deftly manipulated by the worst of the group.  In parts, I actually pondered how these girls became so adept at the art of manipulation and fear-mongering from such a young age.  And for those too scared to speak up, what is the reward for complying?  You are not a target.  You stay in the good books... for the moment.  But favour is fickle, with little discernible cause and effect between behaviour, reward or punishment.  The bully's power comes from ensuring their behaviour is alarming and unpredictable. And so those desperate to be liked and admired keep deferring to the bullies, trying to please them... with mixed results.  But is this strategy truly worthwhile when you still live in fear, and hate yourself for what you are becoming?  Slowly morphing into the bully that you despise because you feel too weak to stand out, stand alone and speak up?

Arrrgh, it's such a familiar story that continues to be told the world over, generation after generation!!!  I wonder if it will ever change?  We've come so far, and yet some things seem to remain the same.  I would recommend this as important reading for ANY girl in High School, from about 15 up.  It is a subtle read that gets under your skin, I can't really say why I couldn't put it down, other than I kept coming picking it up every spare moment I had.  Totally compelling. 

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