I had heard about Want to Go Private? from another blog, YA Librarian Tales, which also hosted an interview with the author, Sarah Darer Littman.  The topic struck me as horrible, and the book as a must-read.  Statistics and data might not dissuade teens from chatting with strangers online and potentially becoming victims of internet predators, but maybe a novel written for them will.  When I found a copy of this at the preview center, I pounced.

Statistics
Checkouts: New to the library, but already on hold before the school year starts!
Typical reader: Hopefully teens, but nearly every teacher I’ve mentioned this book to wants to read it

Synopsis: Abby Johnston dreads starting high school.  Then she meets a nice older guy online named Luke, who shares her interests and understands her problems.  As time passes, he wins her trust and they start doing things via webcam she wouldn’t dream of doing with a boy she could really meet.  Her grades start to fall, her parents get mad, and Luke suggests that she run away with him for a few days.  She ditches school the next day and gets into his car.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

This has to be one of the toughest books I’ve read in a long time.  There are parts where I just had to put the book down because of how horrible the topic is, and how despicable the actions of Luke are.  Nothing is too graphically spelled out, but that doesn’t make it any easier.  Ms. Littman has done a very good job with this, though.  She’s obviously done her research into what exactly internet predators do to “groom” their victims into a false sense of security and love, and the legal systems in place to deal with these perpetrators when things go bad.

Abby is an amazing character, who might be incredibly book-smart but is only 14 and lacks the emotional maturity to know that she’s being manipulated by this predator pretending to be her perfect friend.  In parts 2 and 3 of the novel, where the narration is picked up by Abby’s friends and little sister while she’s missing, we get some well-rounded characters in Faith, the best-friend, and Billy, the boy Abby dated once.  They are so torn between their concern and compassion for Abby and dealing with not knowing why she got in the car, what their classmates are saying, and in the case of Billy, coping with the fact that his parents and the police seem to think that he did something to her.  Billy is easily the most sympathetic character in the novel.  He’s such a sweet boy, who likes/likes Abby in spite of her actions, and stands up for her against her classmates.  On the flip side, the little sister, Lily, is too immature to be a believable seventh-grader.  She’s just so bratty and childish.

I think there’s a lot of hope surrounding this book.  While definitely a cautionary tale, there’s certainly hope within the story and within the characters.  In the aforementioned interview, the author said that she hopes teenagers gain an understanding – that they’re not alone or isolated, and how something like this could happen.  Teachers, librarians, and parents are likely going to hope that this book opens teens’ eyes to the issue and how it could easily happen to them.

One neat touch in the marketing of this book is that the site Abby meets Luke on, http://www.chezteen.com, is a real site – one promoting the book as well as providing information on internet predators and how to prevent teens from becoming victims.

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