A powerful story about bullies and being bullied.
Catch Tilly is an Adelaide-based writer who was a teacher in a high school. She wrote a play on bullying for her students to perform and after they told her it was exactly the way things happen in the school yard, she decided to turn the play into a book.
Otherwise Known as Pig is hard to put down and very difficult to read. It is both distressing and powerful. It is about a year 9 boy, Morgan Lohdi, (nicknamed Pig), who is beaten up daily by the school bullies and has been for many years. He has no friends (it is hard to be a friend to someone who is at the bottom of the pecking order in case you become a victim yourself), has always been called a loser, and uses his witty sarcastic comments to hit back, which of course enrages the bullies even more. There are moments of friendship, even a possible girlfriend, but most of the students at the school are dealing with their own issues and can’t be caught up or be seen to be caught up, in Morgan’s life.
Morgan has an older sister in her final year of high school who doesn’t want anyone to know they are related, and a younger 11-year-old brother, who is really his only friend. Morgan is clever, but not good at sport and this certainly doesn’t endear him to those who value sporting prowess. His slightly darker skin colour doesn’t help either. Morgan’s father is an ex-footballer and wants his son to achieve at sport like he did. Both his father and mother seem willing to turn a blind eye to his constant bruises, black eyes, broken bones and nightmares. His teachers see him as a trouble maker and the cause of any fights, so they too turn a blind eye to his constant injuries.
Otherwise Known as Pig is relentless in its descriptions of Morgan being bullied daily. It is hard to explain or understand why nobody in a position of power has stepped in to help. But statistics show it is an all too familiar story in the school yard. We get a real sense of how hard it is for a victim to stand up for themselves, and the fear of the bystanders that they could be next. We understand the utter hopelessness of ever getting out of this cycle of violence: the constant fear of knowing that any minute you will again be cornered and unable to do anything about it.
I think Tilly wants us to also feel sorry for the bullies because they have issues of their own, but I had no such sympathy. Tilly shows us that the bully is also trapped in their public persona and feel the need to live up to their reputation. I wanted to step in and take control and make the life of Morgan better. Morgan uses a diary to vent his rage, and it is here that he is able to be witty, but I felt that even this wit was tragic. Being written in the first person, we are privy to the pain of his beatings and his inability to stop what is inevitably going to happen.
Morgan finds an ally in his art teacher who recognises the signs, and attempts to become his protector, but even she finds herself at odds with everyone else.
This story touches on racism, intelligence, the lack of supervision in a school yard and in classrooms, teenage relationships, and trying to find a place in the world where you just might possibly be able to be yourself.
Unfortunately, in Australia, being able to play sport is the way most children and adults fit in, and for those who have other interests, they are often on the outer.
This is a powerful story and one which is well worth a read. It encourages us to stand up to bullies or at the very least, if you see someone being bullied, tell someone because the victim may not be able to tell someone themselves. It might be hard to do the right thing, but it is better than being a passive bystander. Bullies survive because good people do nothing.
Reviewed by Sue Mauger
Distributed by: Wakefield Press
Released: November 2019