Artist: Phil Gascoine
“Your school probably has one – a clumsy, scruffy kid who’s the butt of everyone’s jokes”.
So began the blurb to introduce us to Tears of a Clown the following week. Some readers may have started reading this story about bullying with a guilty twinge because they may well have someone like this in their own classroom, and they may have treated them the same way the heroine is treated in this story. Whether you have or not, this story is guaranteed to make you cry, not least because you can equate it with a real-life bullying situation of some sort or another.
Kathy Clowne is bullied because she is clumsy, gawky, slow-to-learn, and has a surname which makes her open to ridicule. The ringleader, Sandra Simpkins thinks it is a huge joke and tremendous fun to poke fun at “The Clown”. True-life stories from Shout and other teen magazines show that all too often this is how a lot of real-life bullies start: just a bit of fun which escalates into a serious and tragic situation because the bullies never thought what it is like for their victim.
Furthermore, the school and parents let Kathy down. Kathy’s teachers don’t seem to pick up on the problem, nobody steps in to help Kathy as her grades slip to bottom, and neither the school nor Kathy’s parents investigate to find out what is wrong. In fact, the school makes the situation worse by constantly punishing Kathy for lashing out (at the bullying) because they assume she behaving badly. Kathy does not tell anyone what is going on because she is too ashamed to speak out. Sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it?
Like many ill-used heroines, Kathy turns to a talent to prove herself and stop the teasing. In this case it is a talent for running, which Kathy ironically discovers through a trick pulled by Sandra. But Sandra (or sometimes fate) keeps sabotaging Kathy’s attempts to prove her talent, just to keep her the school outcast and laughing stock.
Eventually, Kathy is pushed too far and uses her talent to run away. Little does Kathy know that when she runs off, she finally proves her talent. Her sports teacher sees her crying and tries to catch her up, but fails because Kathy is running too fast – and the teacher is on a bicycle!
Kathy’s disappearance shocks the bullies into repentance. Kathy’s parents realise too late that they have failed her, and are worried sick. The headmistress feels “rather responsible” for Kathy running off – and so she should – and helps the parents with the search.
So when Kathy is found and comes home, she finds that school has changed overnight. Sandra has changed too; when the other girls repented, they turned on her and gave her a taste of what it is like to be an outcast. Moreover, Sandra gets hurt while conducting her own search for Kathy, and this opens the path to reconciliation between the two girls. By the end of the term, Kathy is the star of the cross country team, her school work has improved tremendously, she is very happy at school, and her parents reward her with her first-ever party (and makeover) to celebrate her glowing school report.
Tears of a Clown is regarded as one of Jinty’s best and well-remembered stories, and rightly so. Bullying stories were always popular, and readers always love a good tear-jerker, ill-used heroine, and triumph against adversity. But what gives this story one of its greatest strengths is how it draws on so many real-life bullying situations. Readers will be able to see themselves in some form or another in this story.