Review: Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman


Want to Go PrivateTitle: Want to Go Private?

Author: Sarah Darer Littman

Genre: YA Contemporary, Social Issues

Publication Date: August 1, 2011 (Scholastic Press)

Source: Bought per recommendation of Renae of Respiring Thoughts

Synopsis: Abby and Luke chat online. They’ve never met. But they are going to. Soon.

Abby is starting high school–it should be exciting, so why doesn’t she care? Everyone tells her to “make an effort,” but why can’t she just be herself? Abby quickly feels like she’s losing a grip on her once-happy life. The only thing she cares about anymore is talking to Luke, a guy she met online, who understands. It feels dangerous and yet good to chat with Luke–he is her secret, and she’s his. Then Luke asks her to meet him, and she does. But Luke isn’t who he says he is. When Abby goes missing, everyone is left to put together the pieces. If they don’t, they’ll never see Abby again.

5/5 stars – Horrifying and disgusting and difficult and PERFECT

Ew ew ew ew ew ew ew. This is the kind of book so gross that you need a shower after finishing it. Heck, you might need thorough showers while reading it alongside your usual showers in hopes of feeling clean again. Want to Go Private? can be really graphic at times, yeah, but that isn’t quite what I mean. What makes it so horrible that you need to scrub half your skin off? That it’s deeply rooted in truth and events that have happened to children across the world. That is more chilling than any graphic description the novel can offer, and that is why this novel is so wonderful and worth reading. The increase in your water bill will be worth it that month.

The jacket copy makes it sound like a thriller, but it’s not. It’s a slow-burn horror story about a man grooming a fourteen-year-old girl over the course of three months, what happens with her friends and family in the three days she’s missing, and how she and her loved ones continue to suffer in the months after what happened to her. It’s not a pretty story at all. You might need to read it over the course of about a week the way I did because it can be too much to handle sometimes, but it’s absolutely worth reading because it’s so eerily accurate.

Sometimes, it’s really, really hard not to scream ABBY, WHERE IS YOUR BRAIN, CAN’T YOU SEE THIS GUY IS A MASSIVE FREAK AND CREEP AND OH MY GOD, BURN YOUR COMPUTER JUST BECAUSE YOU USED IT TO CHAT WITH HIM.  She very nearly approaches brainless, TSTL levels, but it’s impossible for me to fault her for it because I know it really happens. When I was her age, I felt the same way and used a site called Zwinky the way Abby uses Chez Teen. Had the right person started sweet-talking me, I might have been Abby. I’m sure many of us who became teens in the digital age can remember a time where we could have been Abby.

Perverted Justice, a site that once worked with Dateline for To Catch a Predator and still works to catch sex offenders/predators when they can, contains chat logs from men who talked with these undercover men and women thinking they were teens and tweens. If you have the guts for it, check out the one they list as the slimiest. If you aren’t chilled by a man trying to coerce what he believes to be a depressed, abused thirteen-year-old girl into becoming his submissive, I don’t know what to do with you.

Those volunteers wouldn’t have to pose as children the way they do and say what they do if there weren’t real children speaking the same way and being taken advantage of. So even though Abby is brainless, there is no blaming her, and the way the novel hammers this point in repeatedly in Part 3 warms my heart. There is a lot of doubt, yes, and I understand where the characters are coming from, but there’s always someone ready to say, “Yeah, NO. You are hurting this abused child even more with that kind of thinking and this is exactly why.” And they’re always right.

The graphic nature of descriptions like what Luke does to Abby when they finally meet and the striptease she gives him right after they start chatting over webcam remind me of critics of Speak. Specifically, of the people who want Speak banned because it’s “child pornography” for having a rape scene in it. Want to Go Private? is exactly the kind of book those morons who can’t figure out the intent of a text would say should be banned. They would think the blatant victimization and exploitation of a child by a grown man who should know better is too titillating for the public.

All I have to say to arguments like that is that if they find such abuse and exploitation of children–even fictional children–too titillating, the problem has nothing to do with the text. They’re thinking of the children, all right, but they’re thoughts we don’t want to be privy to.

The only bad thing I have to say about this book is that you should not buy the paperback.  The one I got and all the ones I’ve seen since have bindings so tight that it wrinkles the pages and makes reading it that much more difficult for reasons not related to the subject matter. Get a hardcover or ebook. Other than that, read this. My God, read this. Littman takes what could have been just another modern horror story that isn’t actually scary and breaths terrifying life into it. Beautiful.

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