Want To Go Private? By Sarah Darer Littman ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: August 1, 2011
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: 330 pages
Format read: Borrowed from library.
Target Audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: beginning of high school, internet relationships, internet predators, internet safety
Summary: It feels like fate when Abby “meets” Luke online. She’s just started high school and while her best friend is psyched to get involved and make new friends, it doesn’t come as easy to Abby. Her parents are busy, she has an annoying little sister, and Luke GETS her. Sure he asks a few uncomfortable questions but she’s never going to meet him… until she decides to meet him… but he loves her, right?
I’m sure you can recall that moment in a scary movie when you know something bad is going to happen and you just want to yell at the character to save themselves. Well, Want to Go Private? is chock full of those kind of moments. At times I wanted to plug my ears and shut my eyes because I just KNEW something bad was going to happen to main character Abby. From the very beginning, you can just feel it.
Let’s talk about Abby. She’s just started high school – we all remember how terrifying that was. Especially when you didn’t end up in any classes with your best friend and your best friend is a little more outgoing than you are and starts making new friends and joining clubs. It’s tough. This is Abby’s situation. In addition, she feels ignored at home because her dad is always working and she doesn’t get along with her younger sister at all. So meeting Luke online, a boy who shares her music tastes and really listens to her, just seems like perfect timing. And slowly she begins to close herself off from the real world.
We all know about child predators, men or women posing on the internet as teenagers to lure kids into their cars or bedrooms or a hotel room. Abby knew about them too. She talks repeatedly about the internet safety classes she attended in school. She acknowledged it didn’t hurt to tell Luke her address or bra size because SHE WAS NEVER GOING TO MEET HIM. Amongst everything this book touches upon, this is the biggest: it knocks down stereotypes of the type of “gullible” youngsters who fall for this kind of crap. Abby was a honor student. She had a nice (although somewhat absent) family. She didn’t get along with her kid sister just like plenty of people I know. She had boys crushing on her. But even after all of that, she fell into this horrendous trap.
When I saw Littman speak on a panel in the NYC Teen Author Festival, she talked about how she conquered her own demons from being sexually abused by writing some of the more difficult parts of this novel. While extremely powerful, what eventually becomes uncovered is nothing short of upsetting, life-altering, and horrifying. At one point (I don’t want to give too much away), Littman relies on the other people in Abby’s life to keep her story going and that built the tension to new, excruciating heights.
I forgot to breathe during those chapters.
There’s a definite before, during, and after presented in this book. Littman was incredibly realistic with the questions the characters asked and the thoughts that they had. The third half of the book is just as thorny to read as the rest of the book. I was not expecting this kind of emotional rollercoaster that took me to a place where I was openly crying over several revelations. Most importantly, the ones presented as a family attempts to heal.
I remember reading on a blog a few months ago that this book should be one that is read in schools. While I’m not sure how an administration would handle a decision like that, I have to agree with that blogger. Internet safety is so important and it is so easy to be swayed, no matter how book smart you are and how “normal” your family is. Littman doesn’t tell Abby’s story like some sugar-coated after school special. It is dark. It is raw. And it is so real that you wish that it wasn’t. You wish so hard. Until you have to stop wishing because you realize situations like this are happening every single day. It’s important to take notice. And I can only thank Littman for writing about such a tricky series of events, one that manages to feel so personal and intense at the same time.