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Saturday, December 3, 2011

'Going Undergroud' by Susan Vaught

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

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.

Meet Del. He’s a seventeen-year-old gravedigger with a secret. He owes his parents a debt of gratitude for the way they stuck by him during the worst of a terrible time. All of his childhood friends had to leave the state and scatter across the country just to escape the stigma that attached to them all … Del has few university prospects, because who’d accept a student with a criminal record? And he has regular sessions with a psychiatrist who is constantly asking Del to explain his anger.

But Del isn’t going to tell his secret, not just yet. Because enough people know about it – it was on the news and in the papers, Del and his friends became the face of a political push and he doesn’t want to relive it all just yet.

Except, Del may just have to remember the past when a pretty girl crosses his path … Livia is dealing with her own grief, but with Del she feels hope.

But before Del can move on with Livia, he has to understand that what he did when he was fourteen-years-old will not forever define him.

‘Going Underground’ is the contemporary YA novel from Susan Vaught.

Warning – ‘Going Underground’ is a smart and compelling novel about a topical issue. I know, I know. Plenty of people will be rolling their eyes in dismay at the thought of reading a YA novel centred around a hot-button topic. They crop up all the time, in the wake of news reports revealing the new and terrifying antics of abnormal adolescent behaviour (think rainbow parties and the choking game). Normally these ‘topical’ books are filled with righteousness and are less about characters/plot and more about the lessons to be learned. Yawn.

‘Going Underground’ is topical – but Vaught’s exploration of ramifications is fascinating and infuriating, and when centred around the lovable Del the novel doesn’t feel preachy but rather cathartic.

Del is our protagonist and narrator, and he’s intent on skirting around the topic of his ‘bad deed’.

So you're waiting for it, right? I know you are.
Why am I seeing a therapist? What horrible problem do I have? What rank, lame, rotten thing did I do?
Shame on you.

What if I didn't do anything at all?

Maybe I witnessed a vicious crime. No, wait. "Brutal." When newspeople talk about murder, it's always "brutal." Brutalmurder should be a new word, since they always get said together, even though they're kind of redundant.

Wait, wait. Maybe I got hit by a drunk driver and have to live in a wheelchair now. That happens to people. It could have happened to me. But I guess that's a crummy thing to joke about, even though I'm not really joking about stuff like my life being wrecked and having no future.
Maybe I have a learning disability and I'm all frustrated by not being able to read, or sit still, or whatever.
Maybe I have real problems I didn't even cause.
See? Now don't you feel guilty?

Because God knows I do.

But as the novel progresses, the truth comes and Del’s secret slowly seeps out.

The novel is about the little known ‘Romeo and Juliet law’, concerning statutory rape. So named, because this law states that two minors who have sex with each other (even if it’s consensual) can both be found guilty of engaging in unlawful sex with the other person. It’s a water-cooler topic and beloved soapbox for US politicians. But there are those campaigning against it – claiming that those minors who are charged with statutory rape (even if they were in a relationship with someone their own age, and both were consenting) will have a rape charge or misdemeanour felony on their record, and such punishment is too harsh and potentially forever damaging.

Enter, Del. At fourteen Del and his friends became the poster children for upholding the ‘Romeo and Juliet law’ in their state. Now Del is facing his eighteenth birthday and university enrolment – his record will soon be wiped clean (but not forgotten) and he’s on the precipice of putting this mistake behind him.

But the one thing Del hasn’t counted on is how mad he is. How mad at himself and his stupid mistake. At the hypocritical politician who put a target on Del’s back and hung him out to dry. Del doesn’t realise the depth of his anger until he meets Livia – in a normal world where he isn’t a sex-offender with a parole officer, Del would talk to her and maybe they’d date and be a normal, happy couple. But that isn’t Del’s world … and all because of a stupid mistake he made when he was fourteen-years-old and in love.

I really liked ‘Going Underground’. It’s a novel about sides and perspective – looking at a topic from every angle and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Sure, it’s a ‘topical’ YA novel, but Del is such a compelling leading man and his tentative romance with sad Livia is so sweet and unfairly hampered that I found myself rooting for him throughout the book. Susan Vaught has written a novel of infinite grey areas, a fascinating read.


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