I came across the book Choke written by Diana López in a recent post by The Hispanic Reader. (It’s a great blog, and if you’re interested in reading more, I’ve reblogged her recent post in an entry below). López’s novel caught my attention because it deals with an increasingly important problem among our middle and high school students–“the choking game”. If you haven’t heard of the choking game before, it’s definitely worth looking up. It’s something that anyone who works with teenagers or young adults should know about. I didn’t know anything about it until a teenager I was very close to died as a result of it. This past April NPR published the article “Deadly ‘Choking Game’ Comes With Big Risks” that provides some basic information. A simple google search will bring up a number of different sites with more detailed discussions.
While there is some variance, the basic premise of the game is to choke or cut off oxygen to the point of fainting, it can be done alone or in a group. Students think of this as a game–they can even find youtube videos showing them how to do it. The problem is they rarely realize how dangerous the game is, or that too often it ends in death. The lack of access to information on the part of both students and adults is increasingly dangerous as the game grows in popularity. This is why I believe it’s so important to highlight books like López’s that engage with the topic in an effective manner. Rigoberto González wrote the following about the book in the El Paso Times:
“An urgent and necessary story, ‘Choke’ also presents a realistic portrait about the pressures of belonging and how troubled peers can speak louder than good parenting and even wise friends. Though the novel exposes a frightening practice, it does so without reprimand or alarm, but rather through a sensitive tale about how young people make mistakes and attempt to correct them.”
I know many teachers may not be able to do a unit plan around this novel or use it as a class-wide novel study, but I believe it still has a place in our classrooms. Perhaps it can be used as a read aloud during homeroom–in my experience, even middle schoolers like to be read to. While they may roll their eyes or act uninterested at first, it won’t take more than a few days for most to get hooked. This book could serve as an unthreatening way to bridge this topic in our classrooms, or a first step in making our students more comfortable to share with us what’s going on in their lives. If nothing else, we can highlight the book in our classrooms as one that students should consider reading on their own.
The book was just released July 1st, so I haven’t read it myself, but I’ve ordered it and should receive it soon. Once I’ve read it, I’ll do a more detailed post on the book itself. For now, I’m sharing the book’s description below, taken from Diana Lopez’s website. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas on the topic in the comments section below, or if you’ve read the book or heard anything else about it, please share that too.
If she could—if her parents would let her—eighth-grader Windy would change everything about herself. She’d get highlights in her hair and a new wardrobe; she’d wear makeup. But nothing ever changes. The mean girls at school are still mean, and Windy’s best friend, Elena, is still more interested in making up words than talking about boys.
And then one day, Windy gets the change she’s been looking for. New girl Nina—impossibly cool, confident, and not afraid of anyone—starts hanging out with Windy! Nina even wants to be “breath sisters.” Windy isn’t sure what that means exactly, but she knows she wants to find out. It sounds even better than a BFF.
Windy is right, at first. Being a breath sister gains her a whole new set of friends–girls she feels closer to and cooler with than anyone else. But her inclusion comes at a dangerous price. Windy wants to change everything about her life. . .but is she really willing to give up everything in the process?