Bully is the debut novel of Emme Dun with which she made quite an entrance. This gay/lesbian, legal thriller based on true events will reveal to you the more dismal tones of the American justice system.
Although this book is about the legal system, the LGBT community and its struggles… although this book is about many things, the central theme is the sacred bond between a child and mother. Emme Dun presents two mirrored stories of custody lawsuits born out of revenge. Wendy White and Jennifer Dolan’s children are at risk of being taken away from them by spiteful ex-partners. This is the only string that ties together these completely different people living in their separate worlds. Wendy White is a lesbian veterinarian who gave up on the idea of ever finding true love again and settled (out of comfort) for only a breeze of romance. She gave birth with the help of artificial insemination to her Abigail, whom she swore to protect as soon as she held the baby in her arms. But soon she will discover that this promise will be harder to keep than she could have ever imagined. On the other hand, Jennifer serves to present the same issue set in a heterosexual relationship. However both families can be characterized as unconventional. Also, in both cases a battle is issued among the biological and “heart” parent. If you are curious about what exactly is a “heart parent”, Patricia Brown, one of the characters, can shed some light: it is “the other parent-not the biological parent, but the one who has been there all along nurturing and supporting the child”.
Emme Dun is professionally acquainted with the American justice system and she shares her years of insight and legal knowledge. The abuse of power is brought into question with some help from Pat Brown and Joanna Crawford. Although this might not always be nested in bad intentions, it invariably leads to unfortunate outcomes and innocent people getting hurt. Furthermore, the leakage of personal affairs into our professional lives can have disastrous consequences. While it is hard to separate subjectivity from objectivity and personal from professional, and a certain overlap is unavoidable, it is important not to lose sight of the best interest of the child. There is a thin line between a natural tendency to compensate for our past mistakes and shortfalls, and the urge to overcompensate.
A generous time span is covered by Bully, as the journey will start in 1980’s, a period marked by the AIDS epidemic, and will end in the present. To help you locate yourself in time, Emme Dun pinpoints some major events, including 9/11. However, these only serve as guidance and I would have preferred it if such notorious events, or periods, (especially the ’80s) got more attention, even at the risk of getting slightly out of focus with the main characters.
I must warn the readers that the first half of the book might feel somewhat slow. The separate narrative strings are tied together only midway through the novel, so it takes quite a few pages until all the characters converge. But once they do, the action really speeds up and keeps your heart racing until the end. However, perhaps the biggest accomplishment of Bully is conveying to the reader the sense of paralyzing powerlessness felt by some characters.
In short, this is a novel about an attempt to secularize the bond between mother and child that ends in a “Roar”.