Choker by Elizabeth Woods

Cara Lange has never found high school easy.  She moves abruptly, just in time for her freshman year, but never manages to carve out a niche for herself. Plus, she misses her best friend Zoe, with whom she did everything.  The latest run- in with kids at school has them making fun of a choking incident in the lunchroom.  She just can’t catch a break.  But the sudden arrival of her best friend goes a long way toward making everything right, until one classmate dies under mysterious circumstances and another goes missing.  Cara starts to wonder whether she and Zoe really know each other at all.

I read about Choker just a couple of weeks ago on Lenore’s blog and then found that I couldn’t leave it on the shelf during a recent book excursion.  So, it came home with me. This is Elizabeth Wood’s debut novel and let me tell you, she is a quick study.  She quickly portrays a totally believable and completely miserable experience for Cara in high school and her suffering at the hands of the mean girls who run her school.

While Cara is overjoyed when her friend comes back into her life, Zoe does so under the sketchiest of circumstances.  The reader can’t help but worry for Cara who is blindly under Zoe’s spell.  Woods touches on a lot of sensitive issues that are rife among teenagers, from relentless teasing, insecurity, peer pressure,  first crushes and loneliness.  Zoe’s arrival and Cara’s subsequent makeover improve Cara’s self esteem, but the relationship between the two girls is not without strong undercurrents of unhealthiness and darkness.

In addition to heavy doses of teenage angst and parents on the periphery of the action, Choker has a heavy and effective thriller element.  The fact that Zoe has a potentially explosive secret, which she isn’t telling, makes for relentless uneasiness as the search for the missing girl intensifies, and the pressure doesn’t let up until the last page.  Recommended.

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