Choke by Diana Lopez
240 Pages (Hardcover)
July 1, 2012
A heartfelt novel about the disturbing "choking game" trend -- and one girl's struggle for self-acceptance.
If she could -- if her parents would let her -- eighth-grader Windy would change everything about herself. She'd get highlights in her hair, a new wardrobe; she'd wear makeup. But nothing ever changes. The mean girls at school are still mean, and Windy's best friend Elena is still more interested in making up words than talking about boys.
And then one day, Windy gets the change she's been looking for. New girl Nina -- impossibly cool, confident, and not afraid of anyone -- starts hanging out with Windy! Nina even wants to be "breath sisters." Windy isn't sure what that means, exactly, but she knows she wants to find out. It sounds even better than a BFF.
Windy is right, at first. Being a breath sister gains her a whole new set of friends, girls she feels closer to and cooler with than anyone else. But her inclusion in the new crowd comes at a dangerous price. Windy wants to change everything about her life ... but is she really willing to give up everything in the process?
Luckily I have never had any sort of experience or exposure to "the choking game". I've never heard it referenced in the hall, never knew anyone who did it, didn't really even know it was a real thing. I vaguely remember hearing about it on the news a few years back, but other than that, this was a non-issue to me, something that didn't seem important. Unfortunately, it is a big problem in some areas, and Choke is a great novel to expose middle-grade readers to the dangers of it before they are confronted with the game. I may not have known about it, but some children will definitely have to make a decision, and hopefully they make the right one.
This novel hit some points spot on. It showed the game from both the "outside" and the "inside". Even though I could never see myself doing such a thing, I definitely understood the draw, why it seems like such a good idea to some people. I appreciated how the novel really approached the subject matter from all sides. The reader gets taken through the progression of seeing the game as harmless, being told it is harmless and starting to believe it. However, then the reader is assaulted with the ugly, dangerous truth, seeing through the characters how detrimental the game can be. The author does a great job of not bombarding the reader with "THIS IS BAD, DON'T DO IT!" from the beginning. Yes, that is ultimately the conclusion the author would like the reader to come to, but the sympathetic nature towards victims of the game makes the whole situation make sense.
My main criticism is that the novel is quite slow. For a middle-grade novel it is especially important to keep the plot rather fast-paced. I had a little bit of trouble with the pacing, so I could see that being an issue for younger children.
Overall though, it is a great way to approach the topic. If you live in an area where you know this is happening, Choke would be a great tool to educate your children. It is a much more personal experience than just being told what not to do simply because it is "stupid" or "dangerous", something I could see middle-graders really connecting to.