I have to warn you about Sarah Darer Littman’s newest novel. Want to Go Private? will make you squirm. It will make you uncomfortable and angry. You will want to put the book down and you will pray that Sarah Darer Littman is exaggerating and that events like those in the book don’t happen. But then I read articles like this, this, and this. All were published in the past month and only scratch the surface of the Google news results for online predators.
I hated Want to Go Private?. Despised it. I felt gross just reading it. Yet I could not put it down. Darer Littman has written an important and powerful book about the dangers of online predators and it should be required reading for parents and teachers. Adults want to believe that teens are “too smart” to fall for predators in this age of internet safety assemblies, guidance counselor pamphlets, and PSAs. But this book is proof positive that even the smartest and best kids can be “groomed” and it’s important that we, the gatekeepers, make them aware of the dangers on the internet. I blog, so obviously I am a huge proponent of the internet. (That sounds silly- is anyone really anti-internet?). I am a huge proponent of my students using the internet. But kids need to be smart and they need to be aware of the dangers that can be out there online. Just like we teach kids about stranger danger at the park and in parking lots, we need to constantly ensure that teens and tweens are aware of online stranger danger.
Abby is a smart kid. She’s a straight A student and a rule-follower. She’s starting her freshman year of high school and she is nervous. Her best friend, Faith, seems to be making new friends and getting involved in extracurricular activities. Abby is sort of floating along, wishing that things weren’t changing. She may have hated some parts of middle school, but she did like the innocence of it. High school seems so much more real to her. When Luke befriends her on ChezTeen.com, a new website for teens (as Abby says, everyone and their grandmother is on Facebook, so the teens are constantly migrating), she is flattered. She makes sure that she keeps it anonymous and casual, being smart about not sharing any identifying information about herself. Luke is understanding, listens to her rants and complaints, always takes her side. He’s perfect.
Abby and Luke grow closer as the school year moves forward. He’s always there for her and she looks forward to coming home from school and talking to him. When he shares that he is a little older than her, she isn’t worried. It’s flattering that someone in his twenties is interested in her. Plus, he doesn’t actually know her. Things get more complicated when her grades start slipping and Luke asks if he can send her a cell phone, so they can talk without anyone knowing. And when he asks her to meet him at a particularly vulnerable time in her life, Abby’s life changes forever.
As you read, you follow Abby’s thought process and as an adult, the grooming she undergoes is blatantly obvious. But Abby is a teen and her arguments are logical in her own head. I could hear some of my own teens making the same justifications. But when Sarah Darer Littman switches from Abby’s perspective to those of her friends and family, the book becomes even deeper. Abby’s decisions affect her family, her friends, her classmates, her teachers, and her town. Her own life will never be the same after the decisions she makes.
Abby is an irritating character because the reader wants to shake her and say “You are being preyed upon!”. But at the same time, she’s a believable teen. Her actions and decisions make sense to her and the reader is supposed to be upset by them. You will be on the edge of your seat for the entire book, despite the eerie feeling that you know exactly what is going to happen.
Sarah Darer Littman’s Want to Go Private? is in important book. It’s intense and gripping, and a cautionary tale that parents and teens alike should read. Highly recommended. This is a book that you will want to read and discuss with your kids.
*review copy courtesy of the publisher