The following guest review was written by my daughter, Katherine Whitmore.
A painfully honest story about dealing with the pain of being bullied, Living in Dog Years: A Reflection on High School Hell by E. Bell (@TheDogYears) is a powerful story that speaks directly to the particular issues facing today’s younger (15-25) women.
First off, I will say that at first the main character of Lis is slightly unlikable. Only slightly, as I found her narrative oddly funny. When we meet Lis she is angry, bitter, and an unknowingly self-indulgent mess. If you stay with her though, I swear all is revealed as to how she became this way. And anyone who has been bullied or scorned or looked down upon for reasons never said, never made clear, will not only relate but maybe see something of them in her. Either they’ve been there or maybe are going through it now and need Lis as a much needed reflection and wake up call.
The wonderful thing about the way the story is told is that for a while there, you’re not 100 percent on Lis’s side. As the bitter person she is, she does and says some really horrible things. Much of her later life issues are messes of her own making. Which isn’t off putting though, as it is real. When you’re that full of anger and un-confronted hate, you are not a nice person. You become what the bullies make you out to be. She deals with her past issues slowly and at first is not all the best at handling them. But as more details are revealed to the reader the more and more you are swayed to Lis’s side. As depressing as all this sounds you’re never drowning in it. There is some wonderfully dry humor in the narrative and real life moments of ridiculousness that had me laughing out loud.
The style of storytelling is simplistic and to the point. You’re never veered off course by too much setting detail or lengthy back stories of the supporting cast. You see them through Lis’s eyes only at the varying stages of which they enter and exist. Which I love. This is a deep and true character study and doesn’t try to be anything else.
One of the things touched on in Living in Dog Years, is the way social media impacts Lis’s life. For some, maybe most, Facebook, MySpace, cellphones, are simply ways to share and stay connected to people they love. But to some, these are links and ties to horrid people and toxic relationships. Bullies and ex-boyfriends can be within reach at all times. You can get to them, suddenly brave to make everything worse behind your keyboard and they can get to you, hurting you without knowing it just by their profile pic being on your screen. Anytime, anywhere, years later. It’s not healthy. So many people have such a hard time pressing the delete button or ignore friend request. Sometimes you simply have to. There must be a clean break. Which is a hard lesson learned for our heroine. A lesson I think many girls need to not wait until they’re 30 to learn. There is no law that says you must be socially, technologically, involved with everyone all the time.
Another thing touched upon, at a greater depth, is the power of words. Bones can mend, bruises will heal, but words can haunt a person forever. Often the advice for when someone is being called, ‘names’ is for them to ignore it. You can pretend not to listen all you want but you still hear it. Words can get inside your body and tear at the very core of who you are. Lis is a sad and amazing example of that.
As much as I soooo want to gush about the ending I won’t spoil it. I will say however that Lis’s tale, her journey, is one worth taking and reflecting upon. Even if say you’ve never been bullied or lost inside of yourself. Even if you find Lis’s character unlikable or her tale frustrates you. Living in Dog Years is sure to stir some sort of passionate emotion in you. Which is really what good character driven stories are supposed to do.
Now, I must say, that I was going to give this book only 3 stars originally because of the editing. Words are misspelled many times over and sometimes small words are simply missing from the sentence. Nothing your mind can’t easily fill in but still, it can from time to time be slightly distracting. Also, in the first few chapters, the structure of memory jumping is a tad hard to follow. Honestly though, that could just be me. I read this book on a Kindle which I normal don’t do (I don’t own one myself; my father lent me his because I wanted to read this book in particular). But despite these shortcomings I gave it four stars. Because Living in Dog Years, in a real and gritty way shows a lesson not many people learn until much too late and makes a point that most people tend to brush aside. Just because it’s in the past doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or shouldn’t be dealt with.
About the reviewer: Katherine Whitmore’s debut novel, Rhythm of Redemption, is a Young Adult/Paranormal fantasy with religious themes.