Reading Level: YA
Publisher: Bloomsbury (September 13, 2011)
I thought this book was so incredible that I decided to re-post my review on its release day. EVERYONE should read this book. No. matter. what.
Del is a good kid who's been caught in horrible circumstances. At seventeen, he's trying to put his life together after an incident in his past that made him a social outcast-and a felon. As a result, he can't get into college; the only job he can find is digging graves; and when he finally meets a girl he might fall in love with, there's a sea of complications that threatens to bring the world crashing down around him again. But what has Del done? In flashbacks to Del's fourteenth year, we slowly learn the truth. Del is guilty in the eyes of the law-- but readers will have to decide for themselves if he's truly lost his innocence.
Oh my. Ohmyohmyohmy. This was a great book! I knew this would be good because of the content, but I had no idea how great it was going to be. I have to go ahead and put out there that the style of the writing in Susan Vaught's book Going Underground reminds me a lot of Chris Crutcher. (He is an awesome YA writer, BTW.) The story does alternate between the present-- Del's senior year-- and the past. It's not a choppy flip flop either; it flows really nicely. The only thing that would make it better is if there was some type of text feature clue to the present-past change. Maybe some italics or something. I could see how that might be confusing to a younger reader that isn't used to this type of writing.
I don't give out too many 5 star reviews because I don't think there are that many "you have to read this" kind of books out there. Don't get me wrong, there are PLENTY of great books, but not so many that earn a permanent place on my personal bookshelf. This book is getting a permanent home. In fact, I just pre-ordered two copies from Amazon. Two! When my son gets a little older I am going to make him read this book.
You get a pretty good idea of what the book is about from the back cover. What you don't get, however, is how amazing the writing is. This book covers a very serious (and real) problem with our youth. I know as a middle school teacher, I am constantly having to talk to kids about appropriate use of cell phones and the internet. I can't even tell you how many phones I have confiscated in the last 7 years that have had inappropriate pictures on them. Too many, that's for sure. Obviously, when I saw this book I wanted to read it. I thought it would open up a whole new door for teachable moments. Maybe, just maybe, it could teach my students a lesson about life. Wait! Isn't that what great YA literature does? I think so.
As deep and heavy as some of the content is, there is a nice bit of comic relief from Fred-- a talking bid. Don't think this bird is a random placement either. It's perfect! She (yes, the bird is a she) is the perfect tension breaker; otherwise, this book might be too serious and untouchable. Having that crazy bird makes the story so much more accessible. Then there is Del. Poor, pitiful, conflicted Del. I loved him. You get a great insight into what it would be like to be a victim of the legal system. I feel so sorry for this kid! You know there are real perverts out there that take pictures of kids and do horrible things with them, but then there are also kids that do stupid things. Unfortunately, Del gets treated as one of the perverts. He spends the remaining four years of his high school life dealing with his actions, and being treated like a pariah of society.
I'm not going to tell much more about this complicated story, because I don't want to give away too much of the beauty. This books deals with the controversial topic of sexting in such a real way that it is going to be one of those teen "must reads." I know I'm going to recommend it to my teacher friends that have teenage kids. There isn't any graphic details or things like that, but this is a story about a kid who gets punished for being sexually curious. You can make your call.
This is a great novel that I would probably place next to Laurie Halse Anderson's Twisted and Chris Crutcher's Inexcusable. Fantastic! (I really hope someone else reads this one soon so we can discuss all the awesome details in it! I am dying to talk about this book.)