Review: Want to Go Private?
Abby is beginning high school. It’s an exciting time, but also a terrifying one that signals a shift in her academic and social life. Abby struggles with the transition, and she’s afraid to talk to her family about it. The one person she feels she really can talk to about absolutely everything is Luke. Abby and Luke met through an online social network for teens, and Luke seems to understand everything Abby is going through. He always makes her feel smarter and prettier, he always takes her side. It seems only natural that after talking online and through their private, top secret cell phones for a while, Abby and Luke should meet IRL. When Abby goes missing, will her family and friends be able to put together the pieces of her secret online romance before it’s too late?
Before I picked up Want to go Private?, I was skeptical of it. I’m all for Internet safety, but I was worried that the book might come across as too much of an issue novel. I’m generally resistant to sensationalized stories about Internet predators from people who think everyone you talk to online is an axe murderer or pedophile. The reality is that most of the people online, like most people offline, are not murderers or sex offenders. I think that kids and teens should learn how to protect themselves in the digital world, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a book about that. So I want to begin by saying that I was wrong.
Abby is an easy character to judge from the get go. I wanted to dismiss her as a stupid girl, to say that anyone with half a brain wouldn’t make the mistakes she did. After all, even Abby knew what she was doing was wrong–she’d been warned about her actions in plenty of Internet safety assemblies. When you take a step back, though, and see a teen who is feeling lonely, misunderstood, scared of change, distant from her friends and family, it becomes easier to see how she could fall for someone who makes her feel special and loved. It is easier to imagine a girl who thinks the horror stories can’t possibly apply to her, who wants so desperately to be with someone who cares about her that she ignores all of the warning signs. As far as Abby is concerned, the person she loves would never hurt her, but that person is a lie, a fictional creation developed by someone who just uses her to get off.
Want to go Private? is a powerful book with the potential to generate important conversations between kids, parents, and teachers, but more importantly it’s an unputdownable and suspenseful novel that provokes intense, visceral reactions. Sarah Darer Littman’s portrayal of a relationship between an insecure teen girl and a cunning, manipulative Internet predator is not easy to read; at times I nearly threw up, and at others it took every bit of restraint I had not to throw the book across the room. And yet, I could not stop reading. Above all, it was Littman’s ability to get the reader into the head space of her characters–even when it is uncomfortable to do so–that made me fall for this book despite my initial reservations. The multiple points of view offered throughout the book make it an excellent pick for readers of all ages.