Monday, November 28, 2011

Going Underground by Susan Vaught

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's

Pages: 336

Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone

Del is a good kid who's been caught in horrible circumstances. At seventeen, he's trying to put his life together after an incident in his past that made him a social outcast-and a felon. As a result, he can't get into college; the only job he can find is digging graves; and when he finally meets a girl he might fall in love with, there's a sea of complications that threatens to bring the world crashing down around him again. But what has Del done? In flashbacks to Del's fourteenth year, we slowly learn the truth: his girlfriend texted him a revealing photo of herself, a teacher confiscated his phone, and soon the police were involved.
Basing her story on real-life cases of teens in trouble with the law for texting explicit photos, Susan Vaught has created a moving portrait of an immensely likable character caught in a highly controversial legal scenario.

The concept of this book really intrigued me. Susan Vaught's Going Underground tells the story of Del, a seventeen year old grave digger coping with the ruin of his future after becoming a sex offender at the tender age of fourteen. Del isn't a sex offender in the traditional sense, however--there was absolutely no malicious behavior or harm done to anyone else. He and his girlfriend were simply the wrong ages. Rather than have sex at such a young age, the two thought they would do the responsible thing and keep their sexual activity at the curiosity level. This responsible thing ended up branding Del a rapist and a child pornographer all before his freshman year of high school.
I don't think I've ever felt more sympathy for a character before. Cain Delano "Del" Hartwick got an unbelievably raw deal in life. His story was absolutely devastating. Del was a good kid with ambitions to go to a great school and go on to the medical profession. He absolutely adored his girlfriend Cory, who very obviously returned his feelings with just as much innocent enthusiasm. Their relationship ended up wrecking much of Del's adolescent life.
This book could have easily devolved into a cautionary tail designed to tell teens all about the dangers inherent in sexting, but due to Vaught's skill was able to be so much more than that. Vaught is never preachy about telling Del's story, rather she let the story speak for itself. The story is more about how Del finally stops hiding in music and grave-digging and reconnects with the world around him. Del manages to see the point of everything again, in spite of a waning relationship with his best friend, a lack of college prospects, and the stress of trying to stay out of trouble.
While there was a romantic relationship in this novel, I would not credit Del's involvement with Livia to the changes he makes in his life, which I thought was impressive of Vaught. She could have easily rested on that relationship and made Livia a crutch for Del, but she does not. Making the changes come from within Del himself rather than as a result of his new girlfriend made them seem deeper and more lasting. Through this, she managed to convey a great internal struggle that makes Del a stronger character that can stand on his own at the end of the novel.
I loved the connection Vaught forged between music and Del's problems When Del was fourteen (pre-sexual predator status) he hated music and claimed it interrupted his thinking. During his stint in juvie and the following years, music became a safe haven, something in which to hide from the rest of the world. With such a crappy situation, who could blame Del for hiding? Once he realized he wanted to become an active participant in his life again, he halts listening to music. He chooses to no longer hide behind playlists and deal with people head on. (Side note: I also love that Vaught used song titles in chapter titles up until this point). Del's connection and reliance on music made him all the more relatable.
Susan Vaught's Going Underground was a fantastic story that explored the legal implications of underage sexting and the psychological implications on those that are punished to the full extent for it. Through Del, the tale becomes more human, never preachy. I will certainly be reading more of Susan Vaught after reading this one.

Rating: 5 - fantastic.

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