Ali Berman’s Misdirected is a charming examination of the different ways bullying can manifest, and how our own prejudices affect the way we approach the world and those with different perspectives.
Misdirected is the story of fifteen-year-old Ben, who moves to a small conservative Colorado town where his atheism seems to be the only thing about him that matters to everyone. His classmates bully him for not fitting in, his teachers don’t understand him, and with his brother serving in Iraq and his sister away at college with problems of her own, Ben is left on his own to figure things out. Being a teen is tricky to navigate when you’re an outsider, and Ben struggles to find his place without compromising who he is. He rebels against his teachers, he argues with his classmates, and he rejects what others believe, bringing the reader with him on his enlightening journey as he learns the value of challenging accepted beliefs—including his own.
Religion, friendships, relationships, family, sexuality, war, and finding your place in the larger world — these are all issues every teen faces throughout their lives, and Berman does a lovely job of incorporating them all into her story in some way. We see Ben struggle to fit into a society that is less than welcoming when he refuses to share their belief system and values.
For the most part, Berman does a good job of offering a variety of perspectives on the hot button issues in her book — most notably religion. Tess — Ben’s classmate, neighbor & crush — especially proves to be a welcome voice of reason, both supporting Ben’s right to his own beliefs while standing up for her own, and rebuffing Ben’s own prejudices. But at times, Misdirected feels a little one-sided. Many of the other Christian characters felt one-dimensional and almost cartoon-ish in their zealotry and their refusal to accept Ben’s different belief system.The story would have felt more genuine had these characters been more fully realized.
The real success of Misdirected is Berman’s use of charm and humor to temper the more serious aspects of the story. Despite some heavy material, the book has an overall light-hearted feel, which makes for an enjoyable reading experience, despite any minor shortcomings.
Misdirected is in stores November 25th.