330 pp. Scholastic Press (Scholastic Inc.) 2011 ISBN: 978-0-545-15146-7
Interest: The Contemps Challenge
Summary (From 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.
Wow. When I finished this book it felt like I had been holding my breath. Sarah Darer Littman has written a powerful novel about a subject that keeps growing in importance. It surprises me that I haven’t come across more YA novels on the subject of online predators. If you know of some, I’d love to know the titles!
I found out about Littman’s book last summer when The Contemps Challenge was announced, and have been eagerly waiting for it ever since. I grew even more excited to read this when I kept reading Twitter conversations between those who received ARCs. I’m so happy to say that I wasn’t let down. The day I finished Want to Go Private? was after reading about 50 or 60 pages the day before. I woke up early, grabbed my copy and started reading. I ended up staying in my spot in bed until the early afternoon because I HAD to finish it.
I’m really curious about how my students will respond to Abby’s story, because I’m sure I read this book differently as an adult than my teens will. Every time Abby was chatting with Luke I wanted to step in and tell her to stop, to warn her. I’m guessing quite a few of my students will feel the same way at times, but I also think they’ll connect with Abby and even think of similar experiences they or their friends have had. And that scares me. Abby isn’t that different from many freshmen in her feelings of being lost, feeling left behind, and not fitting in. I teach freshmen every year and see “Abbys” quite often. Unfortunately, Abby doesn’t know that how she’s feeling is normal. I kept wishing that she’d try to talk to her friend Faith or her mom. Instead, Luke was there and kept saying everything right.
I don’t have any children yet, but this book made me nervous for my future children. Abby kept referring to all of her online safety discussions at home and at school, yet she still became a victim. What can we do to keep our kids safe? For one, I’m going to talk this book up like crazy during school. My principal is awesome and is helping us differentiate our freshmen English curriculum for this year, so he helped us find money to buy YA novels to go with our anchor texts. When another teacher and I were working on our To Kill a Mockingbird unit, we decided to add books dealing with maturity, diversity and prejudice. When I told her about Want to Go Private? she jumped on it and we ordered copies to go along with the unit. Like I said, I can’t wait to hear what my students have to say when they read this book. There are some sexual scenes, so some parents may get upset, but our department has a strong explanation for why we’re including this book. And honestly, I agree with the inclusion of those scenes because it’s often truthful to what happens.
I do want to point out that I never felt Littman became preachy in her novel. The facts are there and the message is clear, but it’s written in such a way that the point is made without feeling like I’ve been lectured. I was haunted by Abby’s story for a while after I finished reading this. The second half of the book is really compelling because we’re reading it from multiple perspectives; we read Faith’s, Lily’s and Billy’s points of view. I especially enjoyed this part of the book because we know so much of how Abby feels about these three, but we never get a clear picture of what they think of Abby. Now that she’s gone missing, we get a real glimpse of how they’re reacting and what life is now like for them.
I don’t want to go much beyond that because then I’ll spoil important parts of the book. I strongly urge you to read Want to Go Private? whether you’re a teen, a teacher, a parent, etc.