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Inventing Elliot

Style: Good

Attitude: Take Care

Author: Graham Gardner

Publisher: Orion

Published in: 2003

Age Range: Young Teens+

Period: Contemporary

Setting: An English High School

Genres:  FriendshipSchoolThought-provoking


Characters:

  • Elliot Sutton is a bullied schoolboy who tries to reinvent himself when moving to a new school in a new area.
  • Louise, a sparky and intelligent girl in Elliot's class, becomes close to him.
  • Ben is a boy bullied and picked on by the others and befriended secretly by Elliot.

Synopsis:

13-year-old Elliot Sutton is picked on and bullied at school, so when his family moves to a new house in a different area, he wants to make a fresh start at his new school. He spends his savings on a more fashionable image and succeeds in avoiding the attentions of the bullies.

In this school an elite group of Vth and VIth formers called The Guardians organise a reign of terror without the teachers' knowledge. Elliot is so successful in his new guise that he is asked by The Guardians to become one of them. At the same time, he is drawn to Ben, one of the boys who is always being picked on, and to Louise, an intelligent and friendly girl who draws him out of himself.

He has to balance these different lives, keeping them apart, and ultimately to decide where his priority lies.

Notes:

An insightful and slightly sinister story of organised bullying and one boy's attempts to reconcile the pressures on him; one slightly sensual description and a certain amount of bullying violence. The Guardians are nothing like as sinister as their counterparts in The Chocolate War.

Elliot's character and the description of school bullying are quite real: the helplessness felt by the boys who've done nothing wrong but look different, act differently, fail to live up to some invisible standard. Elliot avoids the whole issue by restyling himself to fit in, avoiding the problem rather than confronting it. For a rather different view of peer pressure look for Stolly's description in Up on Cloud Nine.

When Elliot agrees to become one of the Guardians, it's clearly not because he shares their Orwellian love of Terror for Terror's sake but because his life would become unbearable if he refused. We realise, by virtue of his clandestine kindness to bullied Ben which burgeons into a real friendship, and the regard in which Louise holds him, that he is not like them at all.

At one point, Elliot and Louise go out, and Elliot — tutored by one of the older guardians — takes her words of affection as inviting more intimate physical contact which he clumsily initiates. She pulls away furiously and nothing more happens. Louise later refers to the episode accepting it as an inevitable aspect of male behaviour.

Themes:

  • Bullying — should someone have to hide himself behind a mask?
  • Teachers — are they really so helpless?

He had started out as one person — the original Elliot, the ordinary boy with a normal life. Then had come the second Elliot: bullied, weak and helpless. And the third Elliot: cool, indifferent, untouchable, Guardian-in-training. How, to add to these, was the Elliot he was with Ben — and Elliot he was for Louise.

Which of them was him? Which ws the real Elliot?

Maybe I'm all of them

Mrs Davidson had talked about wearing masks, and that had been what it was like at first. But you could take off a mask. He wasn't so sure any more that there was a gap between where the real Elliot ended and the Elliot masks started. In fact, he was starting to doubt that between him and the masks there was any difference at all

Saturday 26th July 2003