Review: Are You Still There by Sarah Lynn Scheerger

are you still there -sarah lynn scheergerEvery year it takes the teachers until winter break
To learn my name. That’s why I call myself 
I am a stranger. To everyone.

no one knows me.
Or notices me. Just wait.

They will notice me soon.

After her high school is rocked by an anonymous bomb threat, “perfect student” Gabriella Mallory is recruited to work on a secret crisis helpline that may help uncover the would-be bomber’s identity.

Gabriella Mallory, AP student and perfect-daughter-in-training, stands barefoot on a public toilet for three hours while her school is on lockdown. Someone has planted a bomb and she is hiding. The bomb is defused but the would-be-bomber is still at large. And everyone at Central High School is a suspect. The school starts a top-secret crisis help line and Gabi is invited to join. When she does, she is drawn into a suspenseful game of cat and mouse with the bomber, who has unfinished business. He leaves threatening notes on campus. He makes threatening calls to the help line. And then he begins targeting Gabi directly. Is it because her father is the lead police detective on the case? Is the bomber one of her new friends. Could it be her new boyfriend with his complicated past? As the story unfolds, Gabi knows she is somehow connected to the bomber. Even worse she is part of his plan. Can Gabi reach out and stop him? Or will she be too late?

4 Drink Me Potions

Thank you Netgalley and Albert Whitman & Company for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

**Are You Still There comes out on September 1, 2015**

Are You Still There dived into the psyche of a disturbed individual who dubbed themselves as Stranger. We get the chance to glimpse at written entries of the Stranger’s Manifesto alternating with our protagonist Gabi’s POV as the school year progressed after the initial bombing attempt at the beginning of the book.

Although I would never side with what Stranger did, I have to admit that the Manifesto entries were one of my favourite parts of this book. They were written in poetic prose that was both beautiful and haunting at the same time. Why? Because it spoke so much of hurt and pain. Going unnoticed. Being a speck of dust that forever floats. Here was a kid who had nothing left to live for, and just wanted someone to notice for only a single moment.

This book was a thriller and a mystery, but seeing Stranger’s thoughts definitely upped my rating. Maybe I’m a little weird, and I do happen to have a huge fascination for the show Criminal Minds, so that might explain why I liked seeing the “bad guy’s” perspective. Sometimes people do stupid and awful things for no reason, but Are You Still There heavily reflects the central of theme of – you guessed it – high school bullying and resulting suicides .

It’s a deep topic. Normally I shy away from books that do because I just feel so SAD after reading them. Bullying is an awful thing that happens in every day life. I wish I could do more but it’s definitely more effective when it’s a group effort. Anyway, here’s a book that touched up on suicides as well, with Gabi and group of select students in her school chosen to be part of the Helpline, a peer hotline for kids to call in and talk after the events of the almost-bombing. I loved that it definitely highlighted the seriousness of bullying and its consequences, without letting it be so consuming that I just want to punch a few kids’ self-righteous noses.

Gabi was an okay protagonist. She was initially the perfect girl who does everything her micromanaging mother makes her do. A grades, never parties or gets into trouble, extra volunteering opportunities, and amazing university prospects in sight. With becoming a part of the Helpline, she meets people from all sorts of cliques around the school and really has to learn to broaden her horizons when it comes to people. Her newfound friendships (and even a relationship with a hot Latino boy!) were the catalysts for great changes that allowed her to understand her rebellious younger sister Chloe.

Gabi wasn’t always great though. Once the “bomber” seemed to have placed her into the Plan, she seemed to have developed some kind of God complex herself. Trying to contact Stranger on her own without letting her cop dad know too many details. Not letting her boyfriend, Miguel, try to protect her. She wasn’t all that nice to him at times, honestly. I don’t know why he stuck with her in those moments.

I had a minor problem in reading the book as it came in ebook format. Paragraphs were not indented properly, which made figuring out who was saying what in a conversation a little harder to interpret at times. Also, text messages were difficult to separate from actual words that described Gabi’s life, and they too were not indented so I had to slowly figure out the sender of each. I think this may only be a problem for those receiving an arc. Or at least, I sure hope so.

I guess I’m saying that this book was good in most aspects, minus certain Gabi moments (and the malfunction in formatting in the ebook format). However, I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery and at guessing who Stranger was. There were definitely red herring moments and culprits that I sadly fell astray with. I thought the identity of Stranger was satisfying. It was not too obvious, but it wasn’t someone that Gabi never had in contact with either. The overall change and growth in Gabi’s character, along with insights into Stranger’s goals in getting the Helpline people to understand the bullying that went on in their school each day, were icing on top of the cake. I feel like hugging the next kid I see sitting alone at school. Are You Still There definitely touched a chord in my heart.

Overall Recommendation:
Intriguing and mysterious, Stranger is playing a game with the kids in at Central High. After an almost-bombing attempt at the beginning of the school year, Gabi and a few other students from varying cliques come together as part of the new Helpline for students to talk about anything bothering them anonymously. It was a touching book about understanding others and showcases the deadly consequences of bullying. With a satisfying conclusion and identity to Stranger, Are You Still There had me guessing till the end. Plus, the poetic entries in Stranger’s Manifesto about the Game of Life were haunting words that resonates more deeply than anything else this book had to offer.

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