A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
A Dylan Thomas poem is mentioned, but the title's not given ("Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night"). Kids will learn a little about investigative techniques such as photo analyzing and fact-checking.
Real-life interactions can make you happy and fulfilled in a way online relationships can't. Being honest about your thoughts and feelings from the start will avoid more hurt down the line. Achieving your dreams doesn't necessarily put an end to your problems and may even create more problems. When the spotlight shines on you, you can't choose which part of yourself it illuminates, so the only thing you can do is stay true to yourself.
Positive Role Models
Heroine Lucy, a senior in high school, is pretty self-absorbed, and, although she doesn't want to hurt anyone, she makes bad decisions that do just that. But she learns how being honest with people even when it's hard will avoid even bigger hurts when things escalate out of control. She also learns to be less judgmental of others, to appreciate the value of real-life interactions and relationships, and how much you can miss out on when you label and dismiss people instead of getting to know them. Love interest Cole is loyal and supportive, as is Jayla, Lucy's adult sister, who tries to repair their relationship while her own life is falling apart. Lucy's parents are absent on vacation. The school principal's attempts at intervention are well intended but inadequate and hamstrung by bureaucracy. Other teachers and staff at Lucy's high school are notable only for their absence or persistence in avoiding student interaction.
Violence & Scariness
Some fantasy violence in a fictional zombie-apocalypse MPOG mentions blood spatters on the screen. Heroine Lucy enjoys the game and how it sometimes lets her work out her anger and frustration. Violent ways to kill a zombie are mentioned several times and include flamethrowers, shotguns, Molotov cocktails, and axes to the face. Within the fictional game, gore in the form of zombie guts is mentioned a couple of times. A description of a fictional TV show episode includes a vague description of the show's heroine being trampled and mentions she was gored to death.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sexual incidents between characters are few and far between and mostly involve kissing and light making out. A couple of incidents imply that Lucy and Cole had sex, but it's not narrated and left to the reader's imagination whether they did or not. Overall the teens are matter-of-fact about sexual activity, with one friend mentioned as having many partners. Having sex with your date after the prom is referred to as "postprom duties." A major plot point illustrates the double standard: Lucy is "slut shamed" and frequently called a slut, and she thinks of herself as a slut for making out with Cole, who suffers no real consequences himself. Nudity is mentioned a couple of times when a boy strips to go swimming at a party and strip poker is played. A typo in an official school communication leads the teens to joke about vibrators and make lewd gestures that aren't described. Girls are treated as sexual objects a couple of times: when a boy asks another, "If you're done with Ellie, can I hit that?" and when Griffin shows extra cleavage to extract information from jocks.
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Teens frequently use lots of profanity. Every other page or so, "s--t" and "ass" and variations on it, or "slut," are used. Used a few times each: "bitch" and variations, "wtf," "boob," "butt," "f--k" and variations, and "crap." Infrequent strong language includes "whore," "skank," "bollocks," "screw," "piss" and variations, "banging," "d--khead," "jackoff," "douche," "dyke," and "hella." "Eff" and "effing" are used a few times. One character refers to his own "Jewfro." "Bros before hos" is used once. Flipping off is mentioned a couple of times. Graffiti describes Lucy as "an ugly C-word who needs to get some." A character is described as "raisin balled."
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Products & Purchases
The central plot revolves around misusing Facebook posts and tags, so Facebook is ubiquitous in the story. iPad is mentioned over a dozen times, and Doritos runs a close second. Other products mentioned several times each are Fruit Ninja, Mike's Hard Lemonade, Sephora, PowerPoint, Jell-O, Hacky Sack, Instagram, Twitter, and a Denver Broncos hoodie. Once or twice each: Accord, Apple, AppleCare, Ben & Jerry's, Burberry Brit, Calvin Klein, Camry, Chipotle, Cocoa Puffs, Coke, Cold Stone, Converse, Dick's Sporting Goods, Dr Pepper, Genius Bar, Gucci, Hershey's miniature Mr. Goodbar, iPhone, Louis Vuitton, Lucky jeans, Mad Libs, the Notes app, OPI, Pop-Tarts, Porsche, the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Shasta, Tater Tots, Tostitos, Urban Decay, and Xbox. Popular musical artists and songs are mentioned, including Alice Cooper, Ani DiFranco, Gloria Gaynor, Indigo Girls, Oasis, Phil Collins, Radiohead, and Stereoheads. Lots of TV shows and movies also are mentioned including Buffy, Angel, Veronica Mars, The Dark Crystal, Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Walking Dead.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
An after-prom party involves matter-of-fact and frequent mention of teens drinking hard alcohol and beer. Narrator Lucy says she had three drinks but is "fine." Negative consequences mostly involve embarrassing pictures posted on social media. Lucy's adult sister drinks wine at home and has three margaritas at a restaurant with lunch. One teen is told "you're such an a--hole when you drink." Pictures of teens smoking at the party are mentioned as being posted on Facebook, but the smoking is never directly narrated. At the outset of the party, one teen asks another, "Are you drunk already?" Funneling at the party is mentioned. A classmate is presumed to be perpetually high, has a pungent smell, and is nicknamed 420. A pot leaf decal is mentioned, as is "smoking a jay." Hallucinogens and tripping are mentioned once. Someone asks Lucy if she's been smoking pot, and she denies it with a wink.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that #scandal by Sarah Ockler (The Book of Broken Hearts) is all about teen drama, which can be easy to dismiss as trivial. But taken too far, as it is in this book, it can be genuinely hurtful. Lucy's experience of being falsely accused of posting embarrassing pictures, even of herself, is a good starting point for discussions about how your teens use social media. Attitudes about drinking, marijuana, and sex are matter-of-fact, with drinking and sexual activity frequently mentioned, but only a few incidents of kissing and light making out are directly narrated. Profanity and strong language appear on nearly every page, with "s--t, "ass" and variations such as "candy-ass," and "slut," used most often. Consumer products also arefrequently mentioned by name, and teens can be encouraged to think about when the products create a mood or establish a character and when the story seems to be selling something.
Is It Any Good?
The latest from Sarah Ockler has a lot less to offer than her previous novel, The Book of Broken Hearts. There's a lot of appeal here for kids who are big fans and users of social media and will provide them with a lot of important food for thought. Stretching the last month of senior year out over 400 pages makes for a lot of minutia, though, limiting the appeal to highly social teens.
Lucy's voice is believable, and she's easy to root for, but the drama overload and slow unfolding of the mystery ultimately get in the way of making Lucy a truly compelling character. Frequently peppering the story with pop-culture and consumer-product references firmly root it in the here and now, making it a much less universal story than Broken Hearts and assuring an appeal that should last about as long as Fruit Ninja tops the best-selling apps list.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.