Monday, March 4, 2013

Review: Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman

Want to Go Private?--Sarah Darer Littma
August 2011 by Scholastic Press
330 pages--Goodreads

Abby and Luke chat online. They've never met. But they are going to. Soon.

Abby is starting high school--it should be exciting, so why doesn't she care? Everyone tells her to "make an effort," but why can't she just be herself? Abby quickly feels like she's losing a grip on her once-happy life. The only thing she cares about anymore is talking to Luke, a guy she met online, who understands. It feels dangerous and yet good to chat with Luke--he is her secret, and she's his. Then Luke asks her to meet him, and she does. But Luke isn't who he says he is. When Abby goes missing, everyone is left to put together the pieces. If they don't, they'll never see Abby again.

This was a difficult book to wrap my mind around.  Reading it was very similar to reading Crank by Ellen Hopkins; I couldn't put it down until I finished it, and once I did I spent an hour or two researching meth addiction, or in this case internet predators.  While reading the novel, you want to put it down because what you're reading about is so horrible, but the story is so compelling that you can't look away; you have to know how it ends.  Want to Go Private? drew me in from the start.  I just started flipping through it to see what it was about and couldn't put the thing down until I finished it, skimming through parts just to finish faster.  

I don't know if it was because I was an adult reader or because the premise is laid out on the jacket cover (we know from the start that Abby will be kidnapped), but Luke comes off as super creepy from the get go.  No 27 year old anywhere is seriously interested in a 14 year old.  Darer wrote the novel to explore why a teen who has been through all the internet safety talks would still fall for a predator, because teens do continue to fall for the act.  But Luke's blatant creepiness undermines that purpose.  I wish his creepiness had been more subtle.  If he's an obvious creep, readers won't be dumb enough to fall for him, so he needs to be sneakier.

Abby's defining characteristic is vulnerability.  Beyond that, she's not very developed.  This makes Abby easily replaced by any teen reading the book.  She falls for Luke because she want to be noticed and accepted and liked.  She feels like she isn't good enough and that her parents are too hard on her.  Change the pronouns as necessary, and that description fits every teen ever.  While that doesn't make for the most interesting character study ever, it does fit with the purpose of the novel.

I loved the last third of the novel.  Once Abby is safe and home (sorry, spoiler) her family tries to put together the pieces, tries to understand why and how this all happened.  They blame the Abby because how should she be so stupid   Abbey blames herself.  Kids at school stick her with a less than favorable reputation.  However, while the characters victim blame, the book does not.  Through Abby's counselor, the book explains that the blame entirely lies with the perpetrator, who is very, very skilled at grooming potential victims.  Yes, Abby made some very poor choices, but she was up against an adult and it is not her fault.  She doesn't deserve what happened to her.  

The book does get a bit preachy in places, but since Darer wrote it to prove a point, I guess that was unavoidable.

Now content.  This is a story about how a girl falls for an online predator.  It's not going to be pretty.  The language is what you would hear in any high school, strong,  and as usual, I felt it was unnecessary.  The sexual language coming from Luke was also unpleasant.  The descriptions of what he made her do and what he did to her after kidnapping her are graphic and a bit disturbing.  But that is the nature of this subject.  You can't tell a story about sexual predation and have it all be sunshine and roses.  This book is meant to be a wake up call.  This stuff is real.  It happens every day and teens need to know about it in order to protect themselves.  I'm not saying this is a book for everyone, but while it is a disturbing read, it is also an important one.  Ignoring online predation will not make it go away.

Will I read it again?  Probably not?  Am I glad I read it?  Yes with a caveat.  I think it's a very important and under addressed (or at least not addressed as powerfully and effectively addressed as it needs to be) topic, but it wasn't a pleasant read. Compelling, emotionally draining, and memorable.

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