Author: Elizabeth Wood
Release Date: March 2012
Age Group: Young Adult
I’ve always thought the tell of a good horror or thriller is not how many cheap screams or shocks it gives you while you’re in the moment, but how it haunts you afterwards. Elizabeth Wood’s Choker is nothing if not deeply unsettling, and it’s the sense of disquiet that lingers long after its conclusion that speaks of Wood’s talent for bringing on the creepy… and boy is she talented.
Sixteen-year-old Cara Lange has always been a loner, even more so since she moved away from her best and only friend, Zoe, a few years ago. Cara mostly spends her time avoiding the popular girls who call her 'choker' after a humiliating incident in the cafeteria, and watching Ethan Gray from a distance, wishing he would finally notice her.
Then one day Cara comes home and finds Zoe waiting for her. Zoe's on the run from problems at home, and Cara agrees to help her hide. With Zoe back, Cara's life changes overnight. Zoe gives her a new look and new confidence, and before she can blink, Cara is flirting with Ethan and getting invited to parties. And best of all, she has her best friend to confide in again.
But just as quickly as Cara's life came together, it starts to unravel. A girl goes missing in her town, and everyone is a suspect ~ including Ethan. Worse still, Zoe starts behaving very strangely, and Cara begins to wonder what exactly her friend does all day when she's at school. You're supposed to be able to trust your best friend no matter what, but what if she turns into a total stranger?
The StoryAfter Cara nearly chokes on a chunk of carrot in front of the entire student body, her high school nightmare goes from bad to worse. The resident mean girl labels her ‘Choker’, and she’s teased mercilessly. Cara’s parents are absent, and she has no real friends to speak of. So she’s overjoyed when her best friend, Zoe, who she’s not seen in seven years, shows up at her house, begging for a place to stay. With Zoe’s help, Cara’s life is getting better. She’s making friends, the boy of her dreams notices she exists, and Cara feels good… then things start getting out hand—girls showing up dead, out of hand—and Zoe’s behaving weird. Cara has her suspicions, but Zoe couldn’t be responsible... could she?
ThoughtsChoker promises creepy, and it delivers. From the moment the mysterious Zoe shows up in Cara’s life, things start getting out of hand, and as the ‘out of hand’ escalates, so does the tension and the frightening. But it takes a while to get to that point. I struggled through the beginning of Choker, not entirely due to pacing, but a combination of elements from characters, though to writing. Cara should be easy to empathise with. She’s unhappy, and her misery and loneliness seep through the pages, but I struggled to actually like her. As—understandably—unhappy as Cara is, she’s very introspective and introverted, to the point she comes across as self-centred. When Zoe first shows up, telling a horrifying tale of sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather, Cara’s reaction is, “Well, I’m so glad you’re here, because I really want someone to talk to.” (very paraphrased!) I found this… uncomfortable, to say the least.
But despite initial issues with Cara, Choker gets good. The tension builds to fever pitch, and the story becomes outright frightening. This leads to my biggest disappointment with Choker. Predictability. After chapters of build, tension, and nail biting, it ends... predictably. In the way I guessed it would in the prologue. But even despite the predictability, I couldn’t reconcile the Big Twist to events throughout the story. I simply wasn’t able to suspend my disbelief. With the best of stories, the believability of the impossible doesn’t come into question, unless questioning the presented reality is the point. Choker presented me with this quandary over and over again. Choker is creepy. It is, at times, outright terrifying. But a number of irritatingly implausible plot points left me frustrated.