Saturday, November 17, 2012

Want To Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman

Abby's having a hard time adjusting to High School.  She's shy and awkward, the school is big, the teachers different, and her best friend is distracted by different classes, extracurriculars, and a new boyfriend.  Abby's got a boy in school that she's crushing on too, but he isn't the focus of her life.  The focus of her life is Luke, a guy she's met online.  She knows all about stranger danger and how you shouldn't talk with people you don't know on the Internet, but Luke is different.  He's kind and caring and supports her all the time.  And as Abby struggles with her friends and family, she really needs Luke.  So, when Luke suggests that they meet, she decides to go for it.  The rest of the book deals with the consequences of that terrible mistake.

I have mixed feelings about this one.  Littman is tackling an important subject but she knows it.  The story is liberally littered with adults telling the reader about sexual predators online and how they "groom" their victims.  Lots of action in the story is really thinly-veiled advice about what to do (and not do) in situations like this.  The result is a pedantic story that terrorizes the reader as much as it enlightens them. I don't like books that preach, especially about something this obvious.  Want to help kids avoid sexual predators?  Show how those predators work.  But scaring them with graphic and nasty scenes?  With stories of how they will be subject to not only mortal danger, but (gasp!) the derision of their peers?  Why?  It seemed more like scare tactics and felt like exploitation.

Given the mission, the characters are largely secondary to the message.  The kids have endearing qualities, but I didn't really feel that I got to know them (and the adults are throwaway).  Most shockingly, I never really understood why Abby went with the guy.  We gets lots of repetition of the word "grooming process" as an explanation but its depiction in the book is shockingly sparse.  Rather than show the gradual process through which the predator insinuated himself into her trust, we jump roughly ahead a few months to later scenes where the guy has already trained her to disrobe on command.  As a result, we're left mystified as to why she would do this.  For the mission of the book and the understanding of the young readers to whom it is targeted, it would have made more sense to show that development process (and maybe lowered the explicitness of the yucky stuff).

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