My Friday Book: “The Fourth Reich” by Maria Nygren

imageHave you ever heard of a book, which you just know that you ought to read, but you drag your heels because you know it is not going to be a pleasant read? Yes? No? Sometimes, it is a film, which makes you feel the same way. The book “Fjärde Riket” or “The Fourth Reich” in my own translation, is such a book. I waited purchasing it, till I found it dirt cheap in a shop remodeling, and I still put off reading it. Then, three weeks ago, I felt, time to bite the bullet and started. But it took me over two weeks to read this book, which is bad when you are a fast reader like myself. And why did it take so long? Because it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It gives you nightmares, if you read it before going to bed and it leaves you angry. Some of you will say, wow, then it is a good book, because the author has accomplished what she probably set out to do. Shake the reader around. But yet, I can not agree with this, since there is only one lesson to be learned in this book, and I do not think that the author intended that one. But more about that towards the end of the post.

Because as usual, I have no idea, if this book will ever be translated? It is so clearly Swedish and yet, does not bullying and being an outsider, exist in every country, one way or another? There are so many books translated out there, less worthy of being so, which makes me wonder why this one should not become so. But till then, for all my English readers, here follows a summary. And for you who can battle Swedish, I will tell you when to skip some paragraphs, in order to not spoil the “pleasure”. Like I always do. “Enjoy”:

Blenda Warg’s parents, have just gone through a messy divorce. It has forced Blenda to move to a new town with her mum and 9-year-old brother Bastian, while her father has moved to London, where he has found a new woman. A woman whom has caused his interest in his children, to become lukewarm to say the least. Going to school for the first time in the new town is scary, for Blenda, since her old school only had 100 pupils while this one has 400. Not having unpacked her things yet, Blenda grabs an old unfashionable anorak of her mother’s and heads to school, where she very soon notices that things are not particularly “healthy”. The headmaster is sleazy and weak. He assigns her a big locker, on the most popular row of lockers, in the school, and walks her to class. It is French.

No sooner has she sat down to listen, when Hedvig walks in. She displays her power by interrupting  the French lesson, walking up to her boyfriend Noa, who sits in the very back, and French kissing him, like there is not an entire class and teacher present. Penny, her minion in tow, is asked what is for lunch, by her,  and this starts a chain reaction. Yvonne, the poor teacher, tells Hedvig that she needs to speak in French and that she is trying to hold a lesson. Whereupon Hedvig walks out, Penny next, Noa soon in suit and then the rest of the class. Finally there is only Blenda left and a typically bullied girl, who walks up to comfort the distraught teacher. Blenda is amazed and impressed by Hedvig’s power. But telling Hedvig so, is a big mistake. Now she is on the outside, just like LSD, the bullied girl Lena-Stina Dahl.

In the school canteen, Blenda notices the queen in the middle, right away, and would have loved to have sat down opposite her. But to her surprise, LSD (Lena-Stina Dahl) is invited instead, so that Hedvig can sit and copy off homework, right in front of the teachers who are sitting at the next table. Blenda can not make any sense out of her new school. And why does Noa look at LSD with tenderness in his eyes, but gives Blenda an ice-cold look, as he holds his nose?

Who is LSD? A smart, studious girl, with parents who have no time for her, and with strange ideas that one should not have doors inside the house. LSD has two big secrets. That the family is Jewish and that her grandmother survived the holocaust but the rest of the family did not. And the fact that she constantly thinks about suicide and writes notes every day, which she ends up washing in the wash machine, to get rid of the evidence. What is not a secret, is that she cares about everyone.

Like all bullies, Hedvig has her problems. She is smart, which she does everything to hide. But most of all, her main fight is with blemishes. Big spots all over her face with yellow heads and she spends ALL her time, covering them over with expensive concealer, so noone will ever find out. The concealer is her constant companion and she applies it several times a day, even before leaving her room in the morning, to take a shower.  She is convinced that Noa will throw her over, if he sees one of the spots. Beauty is everything to this girl. But as many overly clever people, she is bored to tears and can’t wait to leave Sweden behind for the exciting world, where things happen. The author gives this as an excuse for everything bad she does.

Her minion Penny, with a Spanish father, has been unhappily in love with Noa, almost since she met him, years earlier. But Hedvig barged in and snapped him away from her.  The one thing she can’t understand about her “friend’s” relationship, is why Hedvig pushes him away, every time he strokes her face. Not even Penny knows that Hedvig is petrified of the concealer coming off and revealing the truth. And then Penny has  been Hedvig’s friend since fifth grade and now they are in their final year, grade nine.

This is almost where the book starts, after giving background information. After  school, Penny and the others hang out at Noa’s band rehearsal. Everyone is drinking, even though it is a Monday and when Noa sits down beside the drunk Penny, she kisses him. Hedvig walking in right at that moment, after checking her concealer, does like all divas do, discards Penny as a friend, on the spot.

Second day of school, starts with history.  But not until Blenda has discovered that Hedvig has stolen her big locker, assigned to her the day before, by the headmaster. Fruitlessly, she tries to take it back. But things get worse. During the history lesson, the religion teacher enters the classroom and wants to know why Hedvig’s and LSD’s papers  are identical. LSD is accused of plagiarism by a so-called witness and noone stands up to her defense, not even herself. No teacher or student dare to stand up to Hedvig. Who gets off of course.

The history teacher has decided that it is going to be a day about democracy and all the students are to divide in to groups and work on a topic, pertaining to either democracy or dictatorship.  At the end of the day, they will present their findings and the winning group, will receive a prize. A copy of the Swedish Law book. Everyone form groups, except Penny, LSD and Blenda. The teacher tells them to be a group and to study how Hitler came to power, the only subjct left. While LSD and Blenda do all the work, Penny sits and watches how all her friends disappear, one by one, from Facebook and Instagram, thanks to her having kissed Noa and Hedvig having decided to dump her as a friend. Her entire world is coming apart.

Their group is the first to present the material they have found. They do alright, but there are two groups who really stand out. Hedvig’s group, which does an appalling job, presenting the US constitution, by reading straight from their papers and the text they have copied verbatim. And Kalle’s group, which puts on a fantastic performance with a guillotine and blood splattering all over, presenting the French Revolution in a theatrical way, with the help of Kalle’s theater group’s props. Blenda is smitten with both Kalle and the group’s presentation. So when Ulf, the teacher asks them all to vote for which group did the best job, Blenda votes for Kalle’s group, thinking everyone else will too. But they all vote for Hedvig’s group, except for three people. A perfect example of democracy not working, when people are afraid!

Hedvig could not care less about the prize though or having won. She feels that noone else deserved it, either. In her opinion, they are all stupid, even Noa. She cares about nothing. She is SO bored. On a computer test posted by Mensa, she tested IQ 133 and was invited to join their group. But she did not bother. In her mobile, she carries the phone number to a heroin dealer. Just in case she feels like using some, one day. The reason she copies all of LSD’s homework, is for the thrill of perhaps getting caught, or not. But when the impressed headmaster announces over the speaker system, that two candidates from their school, will be sent to Brussels, to see how real democracy works, she gets excited. New clothes, new people, in another country than boring Sweden. She must win! But she must show that she is for democracy. But is she really? Everyone, including the headmaster know that it will be Hedvig and Noa going. Because they rule the school. And the next morning they have put up posters all over the school, saying that they must be elected for the trip.

Blenda is in shock. How could people not have voted for Kalle’s group? She goes home, only to find that her mum is not there and Bastian has little boys over, screaming and running around with his beloved airplanes. Her only refuge is the bathroom, and in there she starts reading the books on Hitler, having nothing else to do. By the morning, she has decided that they must get rid of Hedvig, make the queen fall. She walks up to LSD and Penny in school, asking them, if they were the ones voting for Kalle too. Which they of course did. She tells them, what they must do to stop Hedvig’s dictatorship. She asks why Penny should not get to have a single thought of her own? Dress like she wants? And why Hedvig should get to cheat and LSD always getting the blame?

Blenda explains that Hitler was also a  nerd and then he got everyone to follow him. How? He spoke and made everyone want to belong to what he talked about. Now they only need to copy him. LSD, whose family after all died in the concentration camps, is not too eager. But after Blenda assures her that they are not copying his ideas, only the way he said things, LSD is in.

Their first action, is to record a speech about Hedvig cheating, from notes LSD has put together, detailing every time Hedvig has copied off her homework and how when LSD started to say no, Hedvig threatened  with telling everyone that LSD charges for the help. Penny and Blenda manage to sneak in to the custodian’s room and broadcast the speech, recorded on Penny’s mobile,  over the loud-speaker system. But LSD, who sits in the classroom, sees that it has no effect. First Hedvig starts laughing hysterically and then all the classmates are laughing so hard, that they don’t hear a word of the speech. And the headmaster catches Penny and Blenda, on their way back to their classroom. Not only are they scolded  for telling lies and being unfair towards Hedvig, LSD who is the real victim of Hedvig’s cheating, is also brought in and scolded. Like all frightened teachers, the headmaster tells them that it was not alright what they did and if they have problems with their classmates, they should talk to their head teacher. But what is the point? The teachers are afraid of Hedvig, so nothing will happen and all the pupils know that. Which is what they tell the headmaster, in vain.

Discouraged, Blenda goes back to the book on Hitler and reads that he failed his coup as well, since he thought everyone was with him and spoke too strong about things. It led to a prison sentence. He then decided to be part of the game, not go against the rules. After a while he was not regarded as dangerous anymore and was  allowed to speak. Blenda realizes that the recorded message was a mistake. She has to find a new strategy and get her two companions back, who are angry at her for the failure. She spends weeks on studying their every move, to find a way to get them back.

Penny is now being secretly bullied. Hedvig has a boy shove her in the food queue, so she gets sticky yellow pea soup on a white blouse, the next day her bus card goes missing and after gym class, her knickers are gone. LSD on the other hand, is totally ignored. Noone talks to her and they turn away their heads when she walks down the corridor. Blenda can feel the girls’ vexation grow and knows that they will soon belong to her again.

After two weeks, Blenda sticks notes in their lockers, notes which say that she is sorry and that they should meet that evening. Both Penny and LSD initially decide not to go, but over two hours late, they both arrive to hear what Blenda has to say for herself.

She starts working on Penny, saying that she could have been the queen and that is why Hedvig made Penny in to her friend, to pacify her and make her a Hedvig-copy. Blenda has studied Penny closely and knows that she is insecure and wants to be seen, but also wants someone to tell her, who she is. Blenda flatters her and says that Hedvig knows that Penny can take Noa away from her at any time, and that is why she now hates Penny. She says everything Penny has dreamt of hearing. Blenda knows that one must not flatter LSD though, only tell the truth, so she wins her over by telling her the truth, that it is obvious that LSD cares about the world and can change it. Penny backs Blenda up and this makes LSD believe them.

Blenda’s  new plan is to make sure that Hedvig and Noa do not get any votes for going to Brussels and that Kalle from the French Revolution group will be elected instead, with Anja who helped him, in the “play”. But first they need to do, what the Nazis did. Decide on a plan of action, that is, write a party program. Blenda has copied off everything “good” from the text books, she has read about Hitler. LSD, still a little bit uncomfortable about the entire thing, says she is in, if they work against intolerance and Penny says she is in, if they make everyone stop listening to Hedvig. This time the three will not split up, but stand together, no matter what.

We have to find something, which everyone hates, Penny says in an SMS, which all can unite behind. Hitler made the Jews the scapegoat. But what does everyone hate in their school? Orientation! Noone in school wants to go out running in the cold and mud, trying to read a map  they do not understand and finding the check points, that some ill-willed person has removed. Penny suddenly knows what will unite the students and tells everyone in school that there will be no orientation that Friday. But how to stop it? When Blenda gets home, her little brother tells her, how two girls in his class ran in to a flasher, in the forest. Blenda acts right away, phones her mum, who in turn reports it to the police. LSD’s mum is a judge and she contacts the headmaster and the next morning the headmaster announces on the speaker system,  that there will  be no orientation. Everyone look at  Penny, Blenda and LSD in surprise. They did what they promised, while Hedvig does not believe in a flasher at all.

Next step is to give everyone a dream. Penny gets her cousin, who is in advertising, to design a poster of Kalle and Anja, in Andy Warhol style and with a Flash going through their names, like the lock which Blenda has on her locker. Their new symbol. They print out the posters and put them up all over the school. Hedvig is not pleased, not at all, and Kalle and Anja, are embarrassed and perhaps a little bit scared. Their French teacher announces that the replacement activity for the cancelled orientation, is a speech forum. All candidates must tell why they deserve to go to Brussels. She, who is also bullied by Hedvig, is excited that someone else has also entered the competition.

Blenda announces to the others, that they are going to make the school love team Anja-Kalle, without the two having to give a speech. LSD and Penny are not excited at all about it, since they do not want to give a speech, so Blenda offers to do it on her own. She will speak, and this was her plan from the beginning. She studies Hitler on YouTube, when he speaks to youths, saying that they are the future, that there is no difference between them, that noone is better than the next. She sees how he pauses after each sentence, to let the audience think about what he has just said. Blenda tries to do the same thing even though it feels unnatural.

When the day arrives, Blenda is ready. She stands with Penny and LSD beside her and points out that they are at a good school since the pupils have high grades, but it is only good, because other schools are worse. With words not directly attacking Hedvig, she tells the audience that they have to dare to do their own thing, each and everyone,  without seeking approval. That their value does not sit in the clothes nor what friends or others think about them. She tells them that they have to get rid of racism, bullying,  hard words and everything which is ruining the school and that they are only strong, together. “We have to stop those who believe they are better and who think they can decide over the rest of us. We are all worth the same and our differences can make the school better”.  Then she moves over to another tactic, pointing out individual people, like the girl Rania, who is all for environment and Greenpeace, and Ebba who is an artist, and who also happens to be Hedvigs new minion. And at the end of the speech, she says that Kalle and Anja were the first who gave the idea, by their way of being and doing things. “Why?”, asks the school clown Ernesto. Blenda’s reply is quick. “Because Kalle dares to be just who he is, because he knows he is special. He wears ill-fitting trousers today, hand me downs, but noone dares to say anything to him about it, because they know he would not care.” Teachers applaud and the headmaster is delighted, at her speech. A new wind is blowing.

But Hedvig is not delighted. She is trying to fight back and her first port of call, is the headmaster. She must find dirt on Blenda. She tells him that Blenda is bullying her, by having taken her best friend away from her. The headmaster does not listen to her like he usually does, but tells her that they are in a sensitive age, that friends come and go, and that he has been there like everybody else have. She wants him to contact Blenda’s old school, to dig up dirt on her, since Blenda is creating chaos according to Hedvig, but he just answers that this is not possible and that chaos usually creates change, which can be for the better. Angry, she leaves the school and decides to hurt Penny via Noa.

The next day, is wonderful for all three girls. They get congratulations from teachers and pupils alike. Till it is time for Penny to go to her locker, in another corridor, than the other girls’, and the boys who always brag about who has the worse grades among them and who drink beer during recess, attacks Penny by said locker. Hedvig has spread around the school, that Penny made a pass at her, that she is lesbian, and now is sleeping with Blenda. That this is why Penny, no longer is her friend. When Blenda comes to her rescue, the boys attack Blenda and two of them, Ozzy and Robin, start dragging her towards the boys’ toilets, to rape her, cheered by all the others. The headmaster suddenly appears out of the blue and while Blenda could have turned the boys in, she tells him, that they just told her how much they appreciated the speech. The headmaster declares to the boys, that so did he. Guess where Hedvig was, during all this? Secretly watching all of it!

LSD takes the girls with her home and there they discuss what Hedvig’s weaknesses are. Penny and LSD say that she has none, and that is why people worship her. But on closer look, LSD has noticed that she is obsessed with concealer, that she applies layers of it on her face, several times a day. What they do not know of course, is that Hedvig is covered in spots with yellow heads and is convinced that Noa would throw her over if he knew. He is not allowed to ever touch her face, not even when they have sex. But they start discussing that one uses concealer to conceal something!

The next day, after gym class, Penny steals Hedvig’s make up bag, while the latter is showering. She finds two bottles of Clinique Advanced Concealer, and hides the entire bag, above the toilet ceiling. Blenda on the other hand, is showering opposite Hedvig and puts an entire shampoo bottle’s content in her own hair, while she notices that Hedvig showers very carefully, so the water will not touch her face. Suddenly Blenda screams that she has shampoo in her eyes, which is true, and she increases the water pressure, so that the water gets all over Hedvig’s face. All the concealer runs off and Hedvig runs out with her hands covering her face. Ebba is there though to help her, but when Blenda screams that she can’t see and Ebba sees her flaming red eyes, she helps Blenda instead of Hedvig, rinsing the red eyes.

LSD who arrives at this moment, is there to witness how Hedvig stands wiping her face and to see all the new spots filled with puss, as well as all the scars from the old ones. Hedvig searches for her make up bag and LSD realizes what has happened and is angry, that once again, Blenda and Penny excluded her from their plans. The first one being, when they saw to that she did not come with them to the custodian’s room, for the broadcast. They knew both times, that she would not approve of their plans, because she is a good person. When Penny appears in front of Hedvig and snaps one photo after the next with her mobile, LSD realizes why she was excluded. This is truly horrible, in her opinion. Penny disappears while the rest of the girls sees the queen fall. Hedvig runs out and while LSD feels sorry for her, she also knows that this was necessary. When Hedvig has left, laughter breaks out, laughter which has been held back out of fear, for years. When they see Blenda, they ask what has happened to her, and she says that she got shampoo in her eyes and accidentally got water on Hedvig. It dawns on them all, that this was a deliberate thing and that they now have a new leader, to be scared of, who will stop at nothing.

Blenda walks in to the school canteen that day and sits down at Hedvig’s table, on the queen’s chair. And Penny, who has posted Hedvig’s photos to be seen by all of cyber space, sits down on Noa’s chair. After lunch they go to the headmaster to talk to him about ordering paint for the lockers and are surprised to learn that not only has he already done so, but he has also talked to the art teachers. Hedvig’s minion Ebba, will be in charge of the project, where everyone paints their own lockers, just like Blenda suggested in her speech. On her way to Penny’s, after school, Blenda encounters Ernesto, the school clown, who objected to Kalle being sent to Brussels. He asks her if she is the leader now. Blenda informs him that they are all to decide from now on, but he feels lost, just like the people in Russia did after the communist fall. Blenda suggests that he thinks of something he likes to do and then he must go and suggest it to the teachers. He does not believe they will listen, but she assures him that they will.

Everyone in school is feeling well actually. They know that Blenda will back them up, if they come with own initiatives. The paint project is started and the teachers are amazed, since noone abuses anything, but let their imagination loose. Rania gets to start a compost, after the police arrests the flasher, and Kalle and Anja happily get involved building it. Penny’s parents fight and are getting a divorce, which is something that has to be kept a secret, from her Spanish Catholic grandparents coming for a visit. But she is happy anyway, because Hedvig has not been back to school. The seventh graders have started to dress the way they want to, in Manga clothes, in baggy clothes, in anything they have always dreamt of wearing in school. Some have even have put on anoraks, like the one Blenda wears, and little by little, Penny is becoming a Blenda copy, unbeknownst to herself.

Ozzy, the bad boy, comes to talk to Blenda. He tells her that everything about Penny’s accused homosexuality etc. was Hedvig’s orders and he says that he knows he is an idiot. She tells him that if he behaves like an idiot, then only idiots want to be around him. That maybe he should try to be something else. That she has been just like him, but that she decided to change. She knows that she has a bond with him now, he is an ally, because she said just what he wanted her to say. And from now on, he and his friend Robin, become her body guards. They have taken it upon themselves to keep an eye out for bullying and then reporting to her.

But things are going to turn from good to bad. One day in the canteen, Blenda goes to stand behind Kalle in the food queue, just to be close to him. In the canteen, Nettan works with serving the food, but she has a problem. She stinks. Really, really bad body odour, especially from under the arms. The two of them make fun over how bad she smells, while waiting for food. Out of the blue she asks Kalle out to the cinema, and he says that he will think about it. But Blenda knows that he will not, unless she does something which will make him like her. So she decides to have students sign a petition, that Nettan in the canteen, has to do something about her hygiene. She takes it to the headmaster, together with Penny, and after reading the law to him, he promises to do something about it. He confronts Nettan, who reacts in a bad way and storms in to the classroom of Blenda and her classmates’, having political science. When none of them defend her, she hands in her notice.

After school the headmaster wants to talk to Hedvig. He feels that things have gone too far and is willing to work with her. He has contacted Blenda’s previous school and found out that she has a difficult time adjusting to school rules. Hedvig feels that he must talk to the other teachers, but he does not tell her what they have already told him. That they were sick and tired of Hedvig ruling the school, that they are impressed with the new atmosphere at the school, where everyone is being nice to each other, and that they despise him running Hedvig’s errands. Hedvig suggests that he contact her parents. She does not tell him, that she knows everything about Blenda, that she is obsessed with her.

Ernst phones Blenda’s home and leaves a message on the answering machine. Bastian, her little brother, has listened to it when she gets home from school and is upset. But she distracts him and asks him why his friend Olle has not been to visit for weeks on end. He starts crying, because he had loaned a much-loved toy plane to Olle, and now Olle says that he gave it to him, refusing to give it back. Blenda wants to erase the message from the headmaster, but Bastian will not let her. She has promised to get his plane back, but now she says she will only do so, if he lets her erase the message. He lets her, but his trust in her is gone, she has hurt his feelings and the bond between sister and brother. Not something which she planned at all, but she must cover her back.  That evening, Ozzy delivers the plane to her. She sent him a message, he contacted Olle’s older brother and frightened him in to getting the plane for him. As a thank you, Ozzy and Robin want permission from Blenda, to do something, which she wants no further knowledge of. In other words, it is out of her control and she has no clue what this something is.

The next day in school, Hedvig has decided to find out what Blenda’s next move is. She goes in to the library and when the librarian leaves her desk, she goes up to see what Blenda has been reading, where she is getting her inspiration. On the way out, she decides to vote on herself and put the voting slip in the voting box, which the headmaster has hung on the wall. But before she gets that far, Ozzy and Robin drag her off to the boys’ toilets. Robin stands outside guarding, while Ozzy cuts off parts of Hedvig’s long beautiful hair with a shaver. He reminds her of them being in first grade together and when he asked if he could play with her. She answered him that why would she want to play with someone like him. She had made sure that he did not get any friends for eight years. In the middle of the shaving, Kalle bursts in to the scene and rescues her, but all she has to say, is that Blenda was behind all of it. She does not accept that she has built up all sorts of resentment in people for years, and that Blenda has just given everyone permission to stand up to her.

If you are Swedish and wants to read the book, this might be a good place to stop reading and jump to the sixth paragraph from the end!

Hedvig has been defeated, the compost is built, the lockers painted, and a nice smelling young woman has taken Nettan’s place in the canteen. But in the empty room that is left, now when all improvements have been made, people have started to feel fear. They do not want to anger Blenda, LSD or Penny, nor do they want to get in to trouble with Ozzy and Robin. Blenda is shocked at what Ozzy did. He had told her that he was going to get a little revenge, but Blenda feels that this went too far. She feels that she must come up with some new great idea, before more bad things start happening. Hitler got in to power, but when he had achieved all the “good” things, he started a war and killing Jews. This is sort of where Blenda and Hitler have to part ways, because while Blenda loves the limelight, she really does not want things to turn bad.

Penny also knows that things are going wrong. She feels guilty over what happened to Hedvig and she is horrified to see that she herself, has become a copy of Blenda. The evening when she does this discovery, she tries to find herself, her own movements, her own way of talking. While doing this, her dream comes true. Noa rings her door bell, enters and tells her that he and Hedvig has broken up, it being a mutual decision. But when he caresses Penny, she knows that he does this, because he is scared that he will be the next person, who will get hurt. When he tries to kiss her, she pushes him away and promises him that nothing bad will happen to him. He asks her to not say anything to LSD and finally she realizes, that he is in love with the girl who spreads love to everyone around her, love and care. Why did she not understand his looks before? He confesses that he has been in love with LSD for a while.

The next day in school Kalle tears down the posters of him and Anja and tells Blenda that he blames her for what happened to Hedvig, that he will never ever go out with Blenda and that he refuses to go to Brussels, if he wins the election. LSD feels uncomfortable about everything which has happened and looses it, when Ebba drags a screaming girl, named Bella, up to her, to report a thing which Bella has done. She has written with a magic marker on someone else’s locker. And it is a suicide message. LSD who always writes suicide notes and then puts them in the washing machine, but has not done so, since they started their campaign against Hedvig, screams at Bella and wonders why she did not just write on a paper instead and tells her to clean the locker. LSD is shocked though, at herself having changed. And is upset how she treated Bella. She goes to a meeting, where Penny questions Blenda being the leader, instead of listening to how Blenda thinks that Kalle should still be their candidate, it being the day before the election. Blenda gets angry and threatens Penny with telling Penny’s grandmother, that her parents are getting a divorce after adultery. LSD refuses to take sides, but Penny has decided to get away from Blenda, as soon as she can, and tells LSD in secret, that she has never really liked Blenda.

LSD gets back to her locker, where she finds a suicide note from Bella. Bella who got Borrelia the year before, during the orientation day in the forest. The medication she was put on, killed all good bacteria in her mouth, so that she got really bad stench coming out of her mouth. She got terribly bullied for it. LSD searches all over for Bella and finds her behind a locked toilet door, that she forces open. Bella has cut herself but confesses that she does this all the time and LSD tells her to not do that anymore, that both of them must stop having suicide thoughts. She then goes to talk to Penny. They must stop Blenda with the help of Hedvig, Noa and Kalle. She also shows Penny a photo her mother has shown her since she was a little girl:

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The girls have decided that they must not become cold heartless people like Blenda is, who cares for noone. That they have to be like the man in the photo, stand up and say no the her.

But the book takes another ugly twist here. Hedvig has spent all her time doing research, on the White Rose and resistance in Hitler Germany. She tells Noa, Kalle, LSD and Penny,  that Blenda has got sucked in to her own power and will try to get rid of everyone she sees as her enemy. Penny and everyone else seems to forget, that if they get rid of Blenda, they will have Hedvig back, full force. She is now in charge of everything, when it comes to the revenge. Penny tells her that Blenda wanted a picture made with Ernst and Hedvig in a compromising situation. Hedvig tells Penny to phone her cousin, who made the election posters, and have it done, because Blenda will use the photo for sure. Hedvig is not yet 15, so the headmaster can go down for pedophilia.

When Blenda has put up all the torn down posters again at school, she returns home to write a speech for the election day. One which will say what she wants to do next. But when she arrives home, the headmaster is there and her mother crying in the bathroom. He leaves, saying that it is for the best. ? Right then, the arranged photo of Ernst in bed with Hedvig, arrives on her phone and she shows it to her mother, telling her that the headmaster is in love with Hedvig.

When LSD arrives home, her parents are in her room, holding the information papers Blenda gave her, when she wanted to explain what they had to do, to make the queen disappear. Her mother is livid, since her family was gassed in the Holocaust. But she tells LSD that the parents have been on the phones all evening and they are taking over from now on. And taking over they do. All of them standing outside the school building in the morning, when Blenda arrives. They hound her down like bloodthirsty dogs. That is when Penny steps in and speaks to all the parents. She says that it is easy to blame Blenda for everything, but that the school is equally to blame, which looks through its fingers and do not see everything that is wrong. How it is all about being accepted or not. And that this was going on long before Blenda arrived. All the parents leave, after their children has gone in to their classes. There will be no public hanging that day nor will there be any election results.

How does the book end? Blenda is being packed off to London and a new school. Even though her dad does not want her there.  Kalle and Hedvig become a couple, since he was in love with her all along and LSD and Noa, also become a couple. But Hedvig has not learned any lesson. She offers LSD to copy off all her assignments and when LSD declines, she says that she can help her with her homework at least.

Good book? No. Not really. It feels like a cheap copy of something which has already been done one way or another, in Hollywood. My daughter thinks it sounds like “Mean Girls”. Perhaps not, but in the same way, yes. That and “The Wave” experiment.

One of my major complaints about the book, is that a lot does not make sense. Part of the reason it took me so long to get through it, was that I had a difficult time to follow the reasoning. How Hitler’s ideas would work at a Swedish high school and how his way of doing things, could be done in that school. It was very far-fetched.

The main characters fell pretty flat as well. After reading the book, you still do not understand who they were and why they did what they did. Was Noa brainless? Did he have Hedvig for a girlfriend because he was scared that she otherwise would hurt him? What does that say about the most handsome boy in the school? And since when does the handsome popular boy fall for the scholar? It does not happen in real life! Sorry, been there, seen that! That is just one example. Another thing which does not make any sense is the spot problem and concealer which is such a BIG part of the book and the reason why Hedvig falls from her throne. Being a woman, who has dealt with spots, black heads and puss all my teenage years and beyond, I do know there is no way to hide them. If nothing else, all the bumps would have been seen in Hedvig’s face, because you can’t hide volcanoes. Concealer does not make a bumpy surface level and the heads of spots work themselves through it via their grease.

What really disgust me with the book and the end, is the fact that Blenda really becomes the scapegoat for everything. She gets punished, while all the rest get off. Even though they created Blenda. Because she was new to the school, she dared to do what noone else had dared to do for years. Stand up to Hedvig. And is it strange that she grabbed a method, which had proven successful, to get rid of Hedvig? As they say, power corrupts. And it corrupted Blenda, but in the same way, she had no control over what happened after all the good things came about. She and the others were only 15 years old and you are not ready for hero-worship at that age. Like Penny said, the school had for so long been corrupt, that when release came about, noone knew how to handle it. People moved their hero-worship over to Blenda, from Hedvig, because that was the only thing they knew how to do. Follow a leader. But all the injured parties, the ones who had really suffered by Hedvig’s atrocious rule, could not tame their thirst for revenge. Hedvig really asked for her secret to be revealed and she really asked for her hair to be shaved. She had hurt Penny and Ozzy terribly, but they were not the only ones.

The thing which makes this book so “horrible”, is the fact that this sort of thing can happen at most schools in Sweden. And probably in other countries too. As soon as you have a scared headmaster, who is a poor leader, things will happen straight under his nose and nothing will be done about it. The teachers who might  have been able to stand up and stop things, get their hands tied behind their backs, when working for such a person. Because he does not want the boat rocked. He will surround himself with teachers who will be like himself, scared. And when grown ups do not take charge, then people like Hedvig will do so and make school a hell for all students. Not just for the bullied ones. No child or teenager wants to be forced to dress in a certain way, to fear disapproval from the in crowd, noone wants to become the bullied one and noone wants to think about every word passing their lips being judged, to see if it is a correct one.

After reading this book, I only have one question for the author. Does she want to say with her book, that Hedvig’s methods were better than Blenda’s, just because they were not based on Hitler’s way of doing things? Because that is the only way I can interpret the book, at the end. I do not see that Hedvig has learned any lesson at all. Her minions came back to her, asking for her help, not trusting in themselves at all. She is no better than Blenda at all. She was fully prepared to play the same kind of game as Blenda was. And that should be a lesson to be learned. That all teachers must be on the lookout for things like this in their schools. That you can not have any student thinking she or he is better than the others. Because then everyone has to be protected against that person. If grown ups are not brave enough to stand up and do the right thing, like during the Nazi era, children for sure are not. When a child and a teenager, all that matters are friends and not being left out. You don’t want to stand out as being different because then you will be bullied. And there is nothing worse than being bullied. It breaks you down totally and you never truly heal from it. NEVER.

 

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