ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) published July 1, 2012. Scholastic. 230 pp.
Windy hates the way she looks, and she hates 8th grade. She desperately wants to be part of the in-crowd but, in all her years in middle school, has only managed to keep herself out of the out-crowd and in GP (General Public) land. Things seem to change for the better when she meets Nina, the beautiful, fun, popular new girl. When Nina takes her under her wing, Windy’s stock soars. Suddenly, she gets to hang with the popular girls, even getting to sit with them at lunch, hang out in the mall, and walk with them in the halls! Life couldn’t be better, and Windy feels like 8th grade has suddenly begun to improve.
That’s what Windy thought, except things soon started to get weird. Nina always wears a scarf around her neck and has invited Windy to take part in the Choking Game in order to be her best friend, or Breath Sister. Afraid of destroying the social status she’s managed to gain, Windy agrees to play – especially when others in the in-crowd are suddenly sporting scarves of their own. Nina explains that no one will be harmed in the game, and all she has to do is let someone choke her until she passes out. The “rush” she will get upon regaining consciousness is what makes the game so much fun.
Despite her misgivings, Windy plays the game, gets her own scarf, and soon finds herself embroiled in a web of lies and fear. In order to find popularity through her association with Nina, she finds herself losing not only her best friend Elena, but her own sense of what is right and wrong.
I had never heard of the Choke Game, and “Choke” does a good job explaining why someone would want to play it, as well as the consequences of playing it. Lopez includes an Online Resources page to help readers find more information, as well as support material for anyone playing the “game.”
Despite the inside cover indicating Scholastic has decided “Choke” is appropriate for grades 3-7, I completely disagree. The mature subject matter of kids dying and getting permanent brain damage by choking themselves for fun is not one I would like to sit down and discuss with a group of 8, 9 and 10 year olds. I think mature 6th-8th graders could handle reading “Choke,” including 9th-10th graders. It is also a good Hi-Lo (High Interest-Low Level) book since the vocabulary is very simple, with a very interesting storyline.