Bystander By James Preller Discussion Questions

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

James Preller's 'Bystander' is a novel about bullying, peer pressure, and the bystander effect, ideas that many students will be all too familiar with. These questions can help guide a discussion about this book and its themes.


Bystander is a 2009 young-adult novel by James Preller about bullying, growing up, and the bystander effect. The book, targeted at a middle-school audience, should be a great way to introduce conversations about bullying, doing the right thing, and the risks of a group mentality. The following questions can help guide your students through a class discussion on the novel and its themes.

Questions about Plot and Characters

  • In one sentence, can you describe what Bystander is about? If you were the book's publisher, what would you write for the blurb on the back cover? How would you explain this story?
  • Who is the main protagonist of Bystander? How are we introduced to Eric? What are some of the first things we learn about him? How would you describe this character? What about Eric do you relate with the most?
  • How does Eric begin to become aware of the social patterns in his new school? Who are Griffin, Mary, and David? How does Eric end up entangled with these characters? Does it always feel like we have a choice in the people who enter into our lives? How does Eric deal with this change?
  • What does Eric think about Griffin at first? Why does Griffin seem like someone Eric wants to be friends with? How does Griffin present himself? How do you think you would have felt about Griffin if you had just met him?
  • How does Eric become aware of Griffin's true nature? How does he respond? Why do you think it takes him so long to stand up to Griffin in any meaningful way? What happens when he does?
  • Why does David participate in the attack on Eric? How does Eric understand this in the novel? Were you surprised at David's change, or not? Why?
  • How does Bystander end? What did you think about this ending? Did you find any of this slightly unsatisfying? Why? Why do you think there isn't a clear sense of revenge, or even of Griffin getting his comeuppance? What does this ending tell us about the author's goal in writing this story?

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