________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006


Chat Room. (Orca Currents).

Kristin Butcher.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2006.
102 pp., pbk. & cl., $9.95 (pbk), $16.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55143-485-7 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55143-529-2 (cl.).

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.

Review by Karen Rankin.

**½ /4


Anxiously I waited for the next few messages, expecting someone to challenge or belittle what I'd said. But it didn't happen. Nobody treated my comments any differently than anyone else's.

I know it sounds dumb, but that was a major turning point for me. For the rest of the week, I visited the chat rooms every day and took part in the conversations. It was the first time I had ever been part of a group. It didn't matter who the chat room people were in real life. The important thing was that while we were online, I was one of them.

Linda, a shy, grade nine student, learns that her school's web-site has new chat rooms that have been designed by another quiet grade nine student, Chad Sharp. The chat rooms require users to adopt nicknames and are open only to other Wellington High students. Linda decides to check it out against the advice of her only friend, Janice Beasley – aka, Beastly. Once on-line, Linda finds someone whose nickname is “Cyrano.” Sure that few boys would know who Cyrano de Bergerac is and equally sure that any boy taking that name must be “sensitive and romantic,” Linda decides to call herself Roxanne. She and Cyrano get along well in the chat room and – after one “tell-tale” event in which Linda's cover is blown – Linda starts finding gifts such as a rose and a flattering poem left at her locker from someone signing “C.” Of course, she's sure that that ‘someone' is Cyrano.

     When a grade twelve boy reveals to her that he is Cyrano, Linda naturally assumes that he's the one who has left the gifts, including a ticket for the big school dance. She gets an ego-deflating surprise when she discovers that “C” is, in fact, another boy: shy Chad Sharp. (Cyrano tells Linda he thinks they have great ‘chats,' but he has no interest in doing more than that.) By the end of Chat Room, Linda has learned some important truths about communication and making friends.

     Linda is not a fully-rounded, convincing character. Though quiet, she is otherwise a fairly typical, intelligent, grade nine student. So, it is hard to understand why she has no friends other than Janice, the “queen of the grumps.” This is especially true since Linda describes their friendship as one “only by default.” It is also hard to understand how Linda forgets about Chad Sharp even though they partner in a school activity and even though he stands right beside her through a whole basketball game. Her acceptance in the chat rooms is a liberating ego-builder. Still, it's surprising that Linda does not doubt that ‘Cyrano,' head of the student council and “one of the most popular guys in school,” would ask her to the dance.

     Peripheral characters are sketchily drawn, but we learn that Janice behaves “Beastly” because she “knows people don't like [her].” By acting as though she doesn't “like them first… it doesn't hurt so bad when they reject [her].” Janice says all chat rooms are for “sickos, perverts, voyeurs, psychos.” Janice is sure that Linda will be hurt if she joins in. Linda thinks Janice is ridiculous. While Linda is surprised and somewhat disappointed in the end, this is largely the result of her own thoughtless assumptions. The conclusion to Chat Room probably makes for a realistic story, but this reader felt let down by Janice's dark foreshadowing: “While you gullible little innocents are blabbing your faces off online, the crazies lurk in the background, taking it all in. Then when you least expect it, they pounce, and it's lambs to the slaughter.”

     One hopes that young readers would get the message that they should not be afraid to be themselves: they will find other people who enjoy their company. And, like so much of life, few things – or people – should be judged on first appearances.


Karen Rankin is a Toronto writer and editor of children's stories.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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