Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Want To Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman

Want To Go Private? explores the danger of online sexual predators through the experience of fourteen year old, Abby. Abby is preparing to enter high school along with her best friend Faith whom she's known since second grade. While Faith is excited at the prospect of attending a new high school and meeting new friends, Abby is scared.
The first part of the story is told in Abby's voice. As Abby struggles to cope at school, she feels lonely and isolated. She feels she is growing apart from Faith and that her family increasingly doesn't understand her. Her father is always working and never seems to have the time to be with his family. As a result, Abby turns increasingly to her new online friend, "Luke Redmond" whom she meets on a teen chat site. Luke makes her feel special, treats her like an equal and tells her that she is beautiful. We watch as he gradually "grooms" Abby, creating trust and building a rapport with her all the while trying to alienate her from family and friends. He tells her that her best friend Faith is not really a friend when she tells Abby's parents that she fainted during auditions. As Abby becomes more and more involved with "Luke", she passes off social events and her grades begin to slip. But as is typical of online predators, their conversations become more and more sexual in nature, desensitizing the young girl. Eventually "Luke" manages to get Abby's address, sends her a cell phone and gets her to send him a picture of her - topless. After a fight with her mother, Abby decides to meet "Luke" and leave home.

The second part of the novel deals with Abby's family's attempts to recover her. The story is told from the points of view of several characters including Abby, her sister Lily, her best friend Faith and a boy who likes Abby named Billy. At this point in the story, we see how Abby's family and friends struggle to understand how she could leave home and get into a total stranger's car. Littman eloquently captures the anger and fear everyone feels. We learn how difficult it can be to track online predators and the particular problems law enforcement face in the race against time to save these young people.

The final part of the book deals is told from Abby's perspective. We relive bits of her experiences with "Luke", her rescue and her attempt to process what she has been through in counseling. It is interesting to see how Abby now views herself and sad to see her loss of innocence and her struggle to regain some of her identity. Prior to Abby's encounter with "Luke" she is a naive, innocent and immature girl. Afterwards the trauma she has experienced has created mistrust of people, especially men and she experiences lowered self worth.

Want To Go Private? is very explicit in recounting exactly what online sexual predators do to groom a young girl and what can happen to that girl when she's been taken. Because the content is so explicit, in some ways, this defeats the purpose of the book since it seems like such a book would be geared towards younger teens aged 12 to 14 and therefore should have content that is age appropriate these teens. On the other hand, teens do need to know exactly what they might encounter online and where crossing the line happens. Really, the rule of thumb should be, if you don't know the person in real life, you shouldn't be involved with that person in any significant manner.

There were a few things in Littman's novel that I took issue with but the main thing I didn't like was the reference that the Abby's predator had been molested by a Catholic priest. To be honest, this annoyed me greatly. There has been a great deal of press about the Catholic sexual abuse cases but generally men who have been molested by the Catholic priests tend predominately to molest other males. There are many Catholic writers who also take issue with the main stream media's portrayal of these Catholic priests as pedophiles when in fact they are homosexuals.

Want To Go Private? is a shocking, visceral read that is best suited to older teens who need a reminder that in an online world where people commonly have hundreds of "friends", caution and common sense is the perogative.

You can read more about Want To Go Private? here.

Book Details:
Want To Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman
New York: Scholastic Press 2011
332 pp.

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