Wednesday, January 25

Going Underground

by Susan Vaught  
Bloomsbury 2011

Three years after a school incident turns him into a felon, can Del find love and a life outside the graveyard where he works?  

Yeah, I said graveyard.

Del is seventeen, and digging graves isn't just the only job he can find that doesn't do background checks, but it gives him plenty of time to think about how he got here. With a parole officer checking to make sure he tries to get into a college, and a therapist helping him sort out his issues, you would think Del was a hellion who had gone on a murderous spree.  

His crime: sexting with his girlfriend when they were fourteen.  

At the time of the original incident Del was a straight-A kid, an athlete, with a good future ahead of him. And when he and his girlfriend sent each other pictures of themselves naked they thought, well, they thought they were being responsible by doing that instead of having sex. Turns out they probably should have had sex, because according to the law his girlfriend was under the age of consent (a few weeks shy of her fourteenth birthday) and that made what Del did a sex crime. As in, sex offender. As in, on your permanent record for decades.  

For three years since Del, more than any of his friends, have had to deal with the taint of this offense. Del wasn't the only one participating in sexting. At an overnight event on school grounds Del and his friends were talking about the images their girlfriends had sent them when they had their cell phones confiscated. The teachers who took the phones saw the images and, by law, reported what they found to the police. The next thing they knew they were at the police station being questioned. Despite Del's parents, and his girlfreind's parents, refusal to press charges in favor of dealing with it themselves it was the local DA who was going to use this case, and Del, as an example. In the fallout, his girlfreind's parents decided to move away from the town in protest, Del's friends kept their distance, and Del was reduced to the pariah status of a predatory sex offender.  

And, again, all because the kids thought they were being responsible by sending each other naked photos of themselves instead of having sex.  

Del does manage to find a new girlfriend who doesn't think what he did was wrong, and he does manage to find a college willing to take a chance on a kid willing to be frank and open about his situation, but the central questions about whether what Del and the other kids was right or wrong is one the reader can mull over and discuss with friends.

Vaught's style is breezy and unobtrusive, it gets the job done without being preachy and without fully taking the stand that what Del did was okay. The story does lean toward the idea that prosecuting minors as sex offenders is harsh and underscores how much damage can be done to teens in an effort to  "crack down" on bad behavior through excessive legislation. It would probably make a good stating point for a lively classroom discussion, though in places where it would probably be beneficial the book will no doubt be offensive to some adults and get a school or teacher in trouble for using it as a legitimate classroom tool.
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