CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 17 . . . .April 13, 2007
Dear Jo: The Story of Losing Leah...and Searching for Hope.
Montreal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2007.
188 pp., pbk., $10.95.
Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
It felt very lonely. I guess people are losing hope. I feel myself losing a little bit of hope every day, even though I don't do it on purpose. It drips out of me. I try to stop it in case it's the hope that's going to bring her home, but there's nothing I can do to keep it in.
I used to think I could feel her out there, that I could feel her thinking of me, and I'd try really hard to use some type of psychic power and communicate with her. But now I wonder if it was just wishful thinking, because the signal's gotten really weak. I can't tell what I feel anymore. I can't separate what I feel from what I want to feel. It's all jumbled up inside, and the more I try to figure it out, the more I get confused.
Twelve-year-old Maxine and her best friend Leah have discovered online sites where they can chat with boys, and in no time love notes are being e-mailed back and forth. They are savvy enough not to provide their real names or addresses, but when Leah agrees to actually meet Muscleboy in person, she disappears. The danger and suspense build as police try to find both Leah and the online predator and enlist Max's help to set a trap.
Kilbourne presents this story as a series of diary excerpts written by Max over the course of several months. Far from becoming boring or repetitive, the diary makes the story more realistic and allows readers to experience Max's emotions while the search goes on for her friend. Understandably, she is deeply upset, and this affects her relationships with family and friends, her schoolwork, and ultimately her psychological well-being.
As well as being an exciting thriller which keeps readers on edge hoping that Leah will be found safe and sound, the novel gives a clear picture of the dangers of the internet for young people. Kilbourne is never 'preachy' but instead uses believable characters, situations and language to make her point. This book provides an excellent opening for discussions of internet safety and awareness. In fact, a list of internet safety tips for both parents and teens is included at the end of the book.
It is fantastic when a young adult novel has a terrific, readable plot and is also able to deal sensitively with a current and serious social problem. Dear Jo combines mystery, adventure and high emotion while educating young readers at the same time. Kilbourne has provided a public service as well as a great young adult novel. Although aimed at this specific audience, the book has much to offer older teens and also their parents. Given the climate in our modern society, Dear Jo should be in every classroom and every library in the country!
Ann Ketcheson, who lives in Ottawa, ON, is a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school
English and French.
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