Sixteen-year-old Cara Lange has been a loner ever since she moved away from her best and only friend, Zoe, years ago. She eats lunch with the other girls from the track team, but they’re not really her friends. Mostly she spends her time watching Ethan Gray from a distance, wishing he would finally notice her, and avoiding the popular girls who call her “Choker” after a humiliating incident in the cafeteria.
Then one day Cara comes home to find Zoe waiting for her. Zoe’s on the run from problems at home, and Cara agrees to help her hide. With her best friend back, Cara’s life changes overnight. Zoe gives her a new look and new confidence, and next thing she knows, she’s getting invited to parties and flirting with Ethan. Best of all, she has her BFF there to confide in.
But just as quickly as Cara’s life came together, it starts to unravel. A girl goes missing in her town, and everyone is a suspect—including Ethan. Worse still, Zoe starts behaving strangely, and Cara begins to wonder what exactly her friend does all day when she’s at school. You’re supposed to trust your best friend no matter what, but what if she turns into a total stranger? (From Goodreads.com)
I love a psychological thriller. Last year I read and was thoroughly blown away by Rebecca James’ Beautiful Malice and the synopsis for Choker reminded me of that a little. So with a creepy and intriguing synopsis and the prettiest cover, I couldn’t resist. Well one things for certain, that pretty cover is a complete contrast to what’s actually inside this book. I love that! Don’t be fooled, this isn’t a fluffy tale at all and at times was quite disturbing.
Choker follows Cara, a girl who isn’t just a loner at school but is pretty much abandoned by her workaholic parents too. It’s clear right away she’s not happy at all. Disliked by the popular girls at her new school, who are no doubt suspicious of her shy and nervous disposition and sense her vulnerability (making her an ideal target for their bullying) she does her best to go unnoticed. But when she chokes in the school canteen and is subsequently saved by school hottie and her secret crush, Ethan, she becomes centre of attention and earns the nickname Choker. Not only was it excruciatingly embarrassing though, but Ethan is the boyfriend of biggest bitch of all, ringleader Alexis, who makes it her mission to see Cara’s life is as miserable as possible. I really, really felt for Cara in this section, Woods recreated the pain and humiliation Cara feels perfectly. In her home the loneliness she felt as she wandered about on her own was palpable.
When Zoe turns up the book takes a decidedly sinister turn. I really don’t want to say too much about this, as it would completely spoil the book for those who hadn’t read it, but I definitely felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as she arrived and I looked forward to being completely freaked out. Sadly, I felt the book lost a little of it’s tension as I became increasingly annoyed with Cara, who appeared to be just plain stupid. I kind of lost my belief in it for a while, her situation at home didn’t ring true, the developing relationship with Ethan wasn’t genuine in my eyes and Zoe became a bit of a cliché. If I’m I honest, I wasn’t that enthralled and the middle of this short book dragged for me. At just over 200 pages I’d expected to rush through it but I kept loosing concentration and putting it down. However, the writing was beautiful and there remained enough mystery to keep me going.
So I was all ready for not liking this book at all and wham! Elizabeth Woods delivers one hell of an ending that completely took me by surprise. Suddenly all the faults I’d picked with it made sense, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it sooner. It was a real ‘OH MY GOD!’ moment and everything I’d wondered about suddenly made sense. I’m not sure if that means I’m not very good at spotting the clues or Woods was clever enough to completely disguise them, then slap me in the face with. Either way, I ended up finishing the book in shock and awe.
Choker is Elizabeth Woods debut novel, and despite the niggles I picked I would definitely read more from this author. I’d have liked a bit more to this book I think, a few more pages could have easily been afforded and used to build more atmosphere as well as create a more convincing relationship with Ethan. However I did very much like her writing style and ability to recreate feelings so vividly, at times I almost felt them myself. And that ending completely redeemed the book for me and left me speechless. I’d recommend Choker to anyone who likes a thriller and a possible quick read, although I will warn you that some scenes are disturbing at times (particularly if you really like animals) and wouldn’t advise this book for under 14’s. Overall a promising debut with a winning ending.
Published by Simon & Schuster USA January 2011