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Fifteen Point Nine

by Holly Dobbie

In Fifteen Point Nine, the bullying that 15-year-old Agatha Murphy and others endure at the hands of “Those Girls” and “Idiot Boys” is physical, degrading, and unconscionable. The aggressors see Susan as overweight, Carson as very small, Travis as abnormally intelligent, and Nicole as extremely sweaty. As for Aggie, they say she’s dirty and smells. What they don’t know is that Aggie’s mother, Jane, is a paranoid alcoholic who scavenges and hoards and is oblivious to her daughter’s need for food, clean clothes, and a functional washroom. Aggie’s also keeping secret the fact that she self-harms in order to relieve anxiety and despair.

Aggie attempts to make light of her circumstances, using barbed monikers “The Torture Chamber” for school and “The Dump” for home and imagining outrageous scenarios that would whisk her away to a better life. But her situation is becoming intolerable.

In an effort to gain some control over the situation, Aggie pulls out an old camcorder to document the bullying in all its horror. The other targeted teens become allies in the endeavour; the group names themselves the Warriors Video Club and resolves to take down the bullies.

Throughout the novel, Aggie experiences glimmers of something better, including kindness from a school janitor and several moms; Johnny Cash–inspired wisdom from Jane’s newest suitor; and, most importantly, notes from an anonymous boy who wants Aggie to attend the Winter Solstice Carnival dance. But, when a classmate commits suicide, Aggie’s perspective on survival and taking charge is put to the test.

Holly Dobbie has drawn from years of teaching high school for this debut novel, and she tells the story convincingly. For those living through bullying, parental neglect, peer suicide, dejection, or isolation, the authenticity of Fifteen Point Nine will hit hard, particularly in its harshness and near hopelessness. Still, the author makes it clear that for those who do suffer at the hands of others, every day of survival is a victory – and making it past age 15.9 is a triumph.