Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Young Adult Fiction Self-esteem & Self-reliance

Sully, Messed Up

by (author) Stephanie Simpson McLellan

Red Deer Press
Initial publish date
Mar 2021
Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2021
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 12 to 18
  • Grade: 7 to 12


13 year old Sullivan Brewster's wavering self—esteem is as plain as the nose on his face. This is kind of a problem given that his nose is not where it should be at all. In fact, when Sully looks in the mirror on his first day of grade 9, his nose isn't the only thing that's out of place. With his eyes now clinging to either side of his chin, his lips on his forehead, and one of his ears squatting in the middle of his face, he looks like a frightened Picasso or deranged Mr. Potato Head.
While no one (except a crazy bag lady) can see what's happened to him, within the first week of school alone Sully encounters an old man who appears to be channeling Sully's destiny through the McDonald's figurines he displays on his fence post, and then learns he has to do an oral presentation on an embarrassing topic in front of his Sex Ed class. Worse, Sully falls under the scrutiny of school thug, Tank, who is about to choose a victim for his ritual Naked Niner hazing. Determined to fly under Tank's radar, Sully goes out of his way to avoid his supportive, but odd ball friends: intelligent, flamboyant and outspoken Blossom who tattoos vivid gardens all over her face and is obsessed with The Lady of Shalott, and relaxed and self—aware Morty who dresses all in black and insists on being called Morsixx. Preoccupied as he is with self—preservation, Sully fails to see that one of his friends is in far more serious trouble than he is, and must ultimately choose between his own self—esteem and his friend's life.

About the author

Stephanie Simpson McLellan
is the author of the stunning The Christmas Wind, published by Red Deer in 2018, as well as a number of other picture books, including the award—winning The Chicken Cat. She lives in Newmarket, Ontario.

Stephanie Simpson McLellan's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Sully, Messed Up, a believable, contemporary story, uses humour to approach some very deep, thorny issues: school hazing, bullying, race, sexual dynamics and family violence. The Grade 9 main character, Sully, has a victim mentality and doesn't understand how to stop attracting bullies. The story's written in third person from Sully's point of view, and by story's end, he has done a gradual and well-paced change to becoming more assertive and less selfish. Sully, Messed Up is very heavy on dialogue which is consistently well crafted. The author is brave in tackling such dark topics no-holds-barred, but personally, I was uncomfortable with mixing humour and violence. On the other hand, I believe some young readers will be drawn in by the humour and process the heavy stuff because of it. A more serious-toned book on these evils would not attract the same crowd. The writing is delightful. . . The dialogue (even if it's nonstop teen-talk insults) is crisp, creative and fun. The pacing is flawless, and the plot is compelling. . .So, if the humour-violence combo doesn't put you off, go for it. Perhaps Sully, Messed Up is a winning formula for coaxing today's teens to contemplate today's dark issues.
CM Magazine

"School can be a place of refuge for some but for others, especially those who become marked as victims, it can be brutal. And for Grade 9 students, it can be especially challenging. With an implicit hierarchy of power and confusion about the supports which they may or may not have, those preyed upon by bullies may become even more isolated. This is Sully who confuses his friends with contributing to his victimization and who doesn't want to worry his family. He is awkward in discussions with his teachers and his principal and then makes further choices that complicate things for himself. But, while Sully has been victimized, Stephanie Simpson McLellan tries not to play up the young teen as a victim. He is instead confused or rather messed up. He's got all the basics — friends, family, the will — to make things right but, like his face, things just haven't fallen into place correctly. Fortunately, when he can see beyond his personal disasters and into those of others, Sully learns to stand up for himself and help himself adapt. This is an important message for young people and, amidst all Sully's struggles, it's one that Stephanie Simpson McLellan emphasizes. With some insight and a little help from others, Sully is finally able to put to rights his situation and find himself."
CanLit for LittleCanadians

"Sully, Messed Up ultimately satisfies. . . with its insight into the high-stakes struggles of early adolescence."
Quill & Quire

"Sully Brewster has the parent of all identity problems in a fast-paced story that touches on issues of sexuality, race, and family dynamics. Being a teen has never been so confusing!"
Richard Scrimger

Other titles by Stephanie Simpson McLellan