I’m going to be honest, I struggled with reading Want to Go Private. Not because of the writing, but because of the content. And because I’m a mom with a daughter, and the mother of three sons. Also, because in my career as a child advocate I’ve seen first hand the impact that poor choices have on a teen’s life.
Want to Go Private?
Those very words strike fear into my heart, and have since my (much younger) brother and sister caught the first wave of internet chat rooms. After reading Sarah Darer Littman’s YA novel, these words rip me apart.
If ever there is a call to challenge books, this would be it. It’s graphic enough to make me queasy and personal enough to make people extremely upset. Yet for all that, I applaud Ms. Littman for writing a book that needs to be available to a generation of children who live and die (sometimes literally) by the rulings of the internet.
What am I talking about? Sexual predators who have easy access to our children’s innermost thoughts, fears and information. But before you shake your head and say, “Impossible. Not my children. They know better,” hear me out. Or rather, read Abby’s story yourself.
Starting highschool is difficult in the best of times. For shy, fourteen-year-old Abby, being on the bottom rung of the social ladder is the catalyst for engaging in online chats with a “boy” named Luke. As she struggles with a failing friendship, an unrequited crush, clueless parents and an annoying little sister, Abby retreats into a cyber friendship with the one person who actually listens to her. Cares about her. Accepts her. And, eventually, loves her.
The first part of Want to Go Private? was frustrating to read. Abby’s a smart girl. She knows all the reasons to stay away from strangers. She’s a good kid–just like yours and mine. I wanted to shake her back to reality whenever she fell for Luke’s game. I wanted to ground her for life when she began sharing far more than her thoughts.
At times, I felt like Ms. Littman rushed Abby’s physical responses. Yet, the emotional ones were spot on. In a few short months, Abby had believably become addicted to her relationship with Luke. Ms. Littman’s execution of it will help parents and teens understand just how vulnerable kids are when it comes to their emotional attachments, how easily they are swayed by seemingly inconsequential events and how fiercely loyal they are to those they trust.
And so ends the first part of the book.
The second one had tears streaming down my face. My heart literally ached for the anguish and uncertainty brought on by Abby’s careless behavior. In this section Ms. Littman masterfully unravels the layers of a teen’s me-centric world in a way that should help teens understand their every action does, indeed, affect others. It also proves just how easily we can lose control of our lives.
Logically, I feel like every teen and every parent should read this book. Emotionally, I struggle. I don’t want my daughter exposed to some of the content. Particularly by my choosing. And yet, it tells a tale of misplaced loyalty and betrayal far better than any lecture by any adult will ever be able to.
Kids tune parents out. Kids listen to other kids. My daughter will hear Abby’s words in a very different way than she will ever hear my own.
This book needs to be read. It also needs to be discussed. Before handing over my copy to my Dear Daughter, I told her that it was one of the most difficult books I had read. I explained that it was graphic, though not gratuitous. I told her parts of the book made me want to throw up. I also told her I loved her and wanted her to remain safe. She knows I’m here for her when she gets to the tough parts. She knows, from past experience, that we’ll discuss the book when she’s done.
For the record, we have. You can read our MAD Review of Want to Go Private? here and see just how much this novel affects teens.
Parents, if you have a child active in social networking, this is a must-read. Before your child ever picks it up. It is an amazing tool to open the door to the emotional side of our lectures. It will help you remember what it was like to be a kid and how uncaring your parents sounded when they harped on you about things like grades and sports. How you simply wanted somebody to see you, understand you, listen to you and love you. Anybody.
Even a boy like Luke.