Monday, January 31, 2011

Choker by Elizabeth Woods

Cara and Zoe were best friends in their youth, but since sixteen-year-old Cara moved away, they've drifted. Now, Cara's lonely in her new school and is harassed by a group of mean girls in her school. What's worse is living next door to one of these girls who hosts parties nearly every weekend. It makes Cara's life miserable.

But when an incident in the school cafeteria brings Cara close to her big crush Ethan and Zoe mysteriously appears at her house, begging for shelter, things change. Suddenly, there's a dead girl, a missing girl, and perhaps a little more possibility for Cara to snag Ethan all for herself.

Choker is a fast-paced novel that can be devoured in one sitting -- which is saying a lot, since I don't usually read things cover to cover. This one, though, I completely ate up.

At the beginning of this novel, I didn't buy Cara's assessment of the girls in her school: she seemed convinced they were mean to her, but I had absolutely no evidence of this. The girls made fun of her but it didn't seem to me anything beyond typical (it's high school, after all). This really bothered me, and it made me question my belief in Cara as a narrator almost straight away.

As the plot unraveled further, I saw that my assessment was solid here. I saw what was happening in this book from the first pages, even though I didn't want to acknowledge it immediately. That is to say, this book is really predictable. Almost too predictable. I knew what was coming well before it came. The end didn't surprise me in the least and in fact, I was pretty let down that it didn't take a twist I didn't expect. Unfortunately, I think that teen readers will see this ending coming from a mile away, as well.

When I finished the book, I couldn't quite put words to what bothered me the most. I don't think the predictability is what did it for me. I think that this is the kind of book that, had it been written down for a younger teen or tween audience, would be so much stronger. I think readers in that range haven't quite read enough to predict the outcome and would find what happens to be really compelling and exciting. I don't think there's enough stuff with this sort of edge to it for that readership. However, because this book DOES have a lot of really tough stuff in it -- sex and drinking -- this isn't an appropriate title to hand to those younger readers.

At times, I found the writing to be a little bit clunky, as well. I think it may have gotten tied up in the plotting here. There's an overuse of verbs and descriptors that aren't necessary, and I wish those words would have been used to build up the plot arc a bit more. Some of the repetitive images that come up didn't seem to serve a greater purpose; they were there to slow me down and make me question my instincts about where the story was going. That tactic didn't work for me as a reader, though I think it could work for a younger set.

That said, I think that Woods's debut is one worth reading, despite the faults. It's an easy one to read because of the pacing and because you will be wondering whether you've figured the game out or not. Fans of mysteries will probably like this (though they will know what's coming) but you might want to try this book out on your fans of contemporary, edgy titles. It'll give them a taste of a different genre. I think, too, if you know your middle grade/early high school readers -- especially those in the 8th and 9th grade set -- and you know that the heavy stuff won't be problematic, you may want to try this one out with them.

3 comments:

  1. I figured this one out from the very beginning too, but from just about every other review I've read of this one, we're in the minority. I think this is in part because Woods pushes the reader pretty strongly towards a different outcome. I think part of what got me through this one was the desire to be proved right in my prediction.

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  2. Great review! I haven't read this one yet but it's on my short list.

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  3. @Em I've not read too many other reviews yet (I try not to until after I review a title) but I'm going to have to now. I'm a little surprised, actually. I thought it was quite obvious.

    @Beth will be interested in your take on it.

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