A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this slight thriller touches on heavy issues -- bullying, alcohol use, self-identity, finding love, social pressure, mental illness -- but doesn’t actually deal with any of them. Teens drink, harass each other, and even commit murder without anyone intervening or taking much notice. The characters plod through the stock horror-movie plot without developing much depth, and certainly without learning any lessons. There's some profanity and sexuality as well.
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What's the story?
Cara, a high school junior, has always felt like an outsider. Her isolation reaches a new low after she chokes at lunch and is saved by Ethan, the boy of her dreams. Alexis, the most popular girl in school, mocks her mercilessly, recruiting classmates in the bullying. Then Zoe, the best friend Cara left behind when she moved to Des Moines in fifth grade, drops back into her life. Zoe has run away and Cara agrees to hide her in her bedroom. Her friend’s sassy confidence rubs off on Cara, who makes social gains even as chaos erupts around her. The girl next door who bullied her is found dead in a pool, and soon after Alexis disappears. As Cara tentatively explores a budding romance with Ethan, she’s alarmed by Zoe’s growing jealousy and disturbing behavior.
Is it any good?
CHOKER is a decent guilty pleasure for mature teens just starting with psychological thrillers. But savvy readers probably will guess the implausible twist well before the end -- and without that surprise, there isn’t much left. It’s easy to empathize with awkward Cara at first, but like all the book's characters she stays paper-thin. Zoe hints of dark secrets, yet her best friend shows little interest in what happened while they were apart, nor does she offer much more than a place to crash. It’s a cast of stereotypes: thrillingly dangerous Zoe; jock Ethan, with his “chiseled cheeks"; “prom-princess” bully Alexis and her faithful sidekick; out-of-touch parents.
The reaction to the nasty violence is superficial and often callous. For all the heavy topics dragged into the plot – bullying, teen identity, mental illness, violent deaths – the only character who seems touched by the chain of events is Ethan. In the end, he’s just another beam used to prop up a flimsy premise.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why dark books like this one are popular with teens -- particularly right now. What is appealing about stories that involve murder and other crimes in a high school setting?
The author paints a stark portrait of high school life. Do you think it’s a fair depiction -- or do teens have more empathy, more depth than this? Which books, movies, TV shows, etc. get high school right, and which get it wrong?
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