What if the law held a bully responsible for a teen’s suicide? Christian author, L.T. Kodzo, explores this question – tackling the growing epidemic of teen bullying in her new book Locker 572.
Locker 572 is set in San Diego’s fictitious North Harbor High. Released by Wine Press Publishing, the novel follows Sheridan Alexander, a senior transfer student who finds an abandoned journal in her locker and learns the truth about a student who was being ruthlessly harassed by her classmates.
“Kids are dealing with hardcore issues; I wanted to be there for them,” said Kodzo, who has 25 years of experience teaching and mentoring teens.
“My overall goal in writing the book is ministry. I want to have dialogue with kids. Teens have a hard time talking about what goes on inside their heads. It’s an age where it’s difficult to communicate what’s happening in their inner lives,” she told The Christian Post.
In the novel, the journal belonged to Ribbon Barber, an innocent girl who endures endless insults and scarring abuse.
Another character introduced is Barber’s childhood friend, Ashley Nobel, who hangs with the school’s popular crowd. Nobel runs into intense drama and extreme consequences when the in crowd morphs into a gang of teen tormentors.
Kodzo said, “I wanted to write a reality-based novel that provides a solution for teenagers to silently, but publicly stand up to bullies at their own schools.”
Her inspiration for the book derived from innumerable news reports she read about teens being bullied to death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 32 percent of students reported being bullied during the school year. Victimized youth are at increased risk for mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, headaches and poor school adjustment.
“There’s something sadly intoxicating about the mob mentality,” Kodzo said in a release from Wine Press, a Christian self-publishing company.
As a consultant often contracted to support business operations for the Department of Defense at the Pentagon, Kodzo is known as a dynamic speaker. She is a sought after facilitator, who is capable of dissecting complicated ideas and turning them into palatable presentations.
Locker 572 explores the heavy, complicated guilt that a bully potentially faces when his victim(s) commit suicide.
“This is a real issue I wanted to deal with, as a novelist,” said Kodzo.
She told CP that her research included speaking to prosecutors about what would happen if a bully came forward and whether or not the individual would be prosecuted in court if a victim committed suicide.
According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people. Teen suicide results in 4,400 deaths per year.
Also, a Yale University study reported on BullyingStatstics.org that victims of bullying are between two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims.
“It’s so tragic. In our media age, kids never escape the constant pressure and the opinions of others that bombard them constantly,” said Kodzo.
Kodzo, a self proclaimed Christian, told CP that the book’s faith component does not have an overt presence in the story.
“There’s no prayer time or Bible studies. But there is a foster mother who home schools and helps motivate the story’s characters. The book is not something that overwhelmingly uses Jesus’ name. However, the story leads to an ending that is full of grace and redemption.”
“While bullies can be powerful, bullying is not the majority mindset,” Kodzo said.
The author told CP she hopes that Locker 572 stops at least one teenager from making an irreversible decision, and creates a means for teens to discuss the issues of bullying and suicide.
“It’s often easier for a teen to open up about a fictional character before they would share their private experience with an adult,” she says. “The novel is a bridge that makes it safe to discuss what feels dangerous.”
Her own tumultuous youth has drawn her to champion the edgy issues young people face.
“I’ve been bullied and I’ve watched others bullying. There’s a middle realm and there’s a fringe – people who are bullying or being bullied. The story is going to motivate the middle,” Kodzo told CP in an interview Monday morning where she described her own childhood.
Kodzo compared the similarities between her youth and Ribbons and told of spending her teen years wanting to be a heroine like Alexander.
Available at online bookstores, Locker 572 has already gotten the attention of teen educators.
Health teacher Laura Rundell at Elmira Free Academy in Elmira, New York received funding for the entire school to begin anti-bullying suicide prevention by purchasing copies of Kodzo’s book for school wide reading.
“Book clubs have come together to talk about the characters, about the story and hard issues like why kids make that horrible, irreversible decision of suicide ” Kodzo informed CP in an exclusive interview.
In 2007 there were 48 suicides in the Elmira region of New York. Ten percent of all book proceeds go to the iMatter Festival, a 3-day cultural youth event in upstate NY that works to eradicate suicide and self-injury.