Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Format/pages: Hardcover 332 pages
Format read/Source: ARC, finished August 3 2011
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
Today’s teens spend a lot of their free time online, and they are taught early on by teachers and parents about Internet safety and the threat of online predators. They are educated to only interact with kids they know and to not give out personal information. Why then are predators still able to lure some Internet savvy kids who have been taught to know better? Want to Go Private is the chilling story of fourteen-year -old Abby Johnston who falls victim to one such predator. This gripping cautionary tale is a must read for parents, educators and teens. This suspenseful and fast-paced book kept me up late reading and has given me a lot to ponder with regards to Internet safety.
The story begins the day before the first day of high school. Straight-A student Abby is apprehensive and thinks high school will be just as disappointing as middle school was, when she was bullied by the popular kids. Her mother, along with her best friend Faith tries to help her put her best self forward by advising her with hair and makeup and encouraging her to try new things. Abby goes through the motions half-heartedly. High school is trying for Abby and to make matters worse she feels she’s losing her grip on her friendship with Faith. Things at home are wearing as well with her annoying and popular little sister, her overworked father, and her mother pressuring her in her academic and social pursuits.
One day she meets someone named BlueSkyBoi in a chatroom on a new teen site and he is very sympathetic to Abby’s school and home frustrations. He begins “grooming” her by being an attentive listener and showering her with compliments. Abby knows that she shouldn’t talk to strangers online, but she feels like she knows him with all the attention he gives her. They start to meet in private chat rooms where the boy reveals his name to be Luke. Luke gradually asks for more personal details and is able to obtain her real name, address, and revealing photos, and finally suggests that they meet face to face. Abby keeps this online relationship a secret from everyone, and stays up late talking to Luke via web cam.
About halfway through the book the story shifts perspectives from Abby’s once it’s determined she’s gone missing. Her little sister, best friend, and a boy from school interested in Abby all shed light into the aftermath of Abby’s disappearance. The tension is palpable with the reader following the story through the eyes of those left behind and left imagining the horrific situation Abby must be in. There is sadness, confusion, and anger as those closest to Abby try to piece together what happened to her and why. We get a behind the scenes look into the FBI investigation and aftermath of Abby’s disappearance. The details are frighteningly realistic and disturbing and showcase the gritty realities of the crime and consequences.
It was frustrating seeing this intelligent young girl cast her doubts aside to trust this online predator. It definitely makes you think about Internet safety training and how someone like Abby fell through the cracks. She did exhibit some warning signs that make you wonder if steps could have been taken to prevent this dangerous situation from happening. The story rings so shocking and true it was as if it was pulled from news headlines.
This book is recommended for a mature teen audience due to the subject matter and graphic nature, including explicit sexual situations and rough language. This book strikes a chord as a parent and makes me more aware of the threats awaiting our children online. Sometimes the book gets a little preachy, but it’s a sensitive and worthwhile read and I hope it gets into the hands of the teens at risk, their parents, and educators.
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