Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Choker Book Poster Image
Thriller has mature themes, but is more silly than scary.

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This book could lead to some discussions about everything from the appeal of dark, suspenseful novels to how the media depicts high school students.

Positive Messages

Touches on heavy issues -- bullying, alcohol use, identity, finding love, social pressure, mental illness -- but doesn’t actually deal with any of them. Readers may be reminded about how devastating bullying can be -- but really this is a book that's more about plotting -- and whodunit -- than lessons.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Readers will feel sympathy for Cara -- the bullies are merciless, and no classmates offer her much in the way of friendship until she begins a physical and social makeover. However, Cara’s own lack of empathy for Zoe makes her a shallow, unappealing character. 


The body count includes two teen girls, both strangled, and three animals (a strangled mouse and cat and a poisoned dog). The bullying includes public humiliation and Facebook posts. Zoe hints at sexual abuse by her stepfather. Only the bullying and the poisoning of the dog are detailed.


Zoe wants to teach Cara to kiss, frightening Cara with her aggression, and making her physically uncomfortable and nervous. Teen girls discuss who’s “hot” and who’s “nasty” at a party, talk about one girl wanting to “hit that," and about a teacher deliberately wearing small shorts.


Lots of name-calling, including “slut” and “bitches,” and "f—k" makes a few appearances.


A few brand references, including a type of rum.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Underage drinking is portrayed as ugly behavior, and the novel certainly doesn't glorify this. Zoe dares Cara to take her mom’s “zombie pills,” teens drink vodka at a party that ends with one girl dead; grieving Alexis is drunk at school; Zoe jokes that Alexis should take Xanax; students gossip about a teacher fired for giving students vodka at his home. 

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.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byAndrea Michelle January 16, 2012

Amazing book.

If you let your kid read this doesn't mean you're a bad parent. This book teaches you about what mostly all teenagers go though. Like drugs, alcohol,... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byStephz1 August 6, 2011

Not for under 14 unless very mature.

I am 13 yet I am mature. I read alot of adult books and books intended for 20+ year olds so the content wans't a suprise to me. My parents are not bad pare... Continue reading

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?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills and suspense

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