Published by Albert Whitman on September 1st 2015
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?
Are You Still There starts off with a bang (not literal!) as the school is in lockdown. There has been a bomb threat made to the school, and Gabrielle is stuck in the girl’s bathroom. It’s a terrifying start as Gabi is so scared that she actually pees her pants (just a little). But even when the lockdown is over, the threat is still very clear as Gabi finds a playing card stuffed into her locker with a message from the bomber. While Gabi’s dad, a police officer, is leading the investigation into the case, Gabi is doing her own investigating, helped by being tapped to help run a confidential student crisis line, the bomber seems intent on making her a part of his plan, and she knows the passcode to her dad’s safe where he stores his files on the case.
This novel is full of so many twists it leaves you wondering who the bomber is. The clues lead the reader to suspect everyone, from the Stranger’s Manifesto, the playing cards, and the phone calls and text messages received by the crisis line. The suspense was enough to keep me reading way past my bedtime (apparently responsible adults give themselves bedtimes. Who knew?!). I think I even carried the book around and read it while cooking supper, eating, and even walking across the street. I did look both ways first, but still! This book had my attention from the first page to the last.
The writing itself wasn’t extraordinary, but Gabi’s voice was. The way Sarah Lynn Scheerger wrote Gabi was amazing. She had personality that exuded in every page she was on, and it was what made the book for me. Gabi is down to earth, focused on school, a bit of a goody-two-shoes, and has a sense of humour and caring that makes her someone I felt drawn to. But then she changes as she makes friends, and learns to actually live her life instead of just following the rules and keeping her grades up. Gabi becomes a regular teenager, someone the reader can connect to. She’s a bit of a rebel, follows the important rules but knows when to break some, curious, passionate, and still so very caring and funny.
My favourite part of this book, though, wasn’t the suspense or the bomber. It was the crisis line. It was a place where friends were made, people were helped, and friendships were fixed. Sure, You can probably guess who some of the frequent texters are, but that doesn’t take away from the service provided any. It really shows that there are services available to people who are going through tough times, considering suicide, or harming themselves or others, or who need someone to talk to. It’s so important, I think, to have a service actually play such a crucial role in this book as it humanizes the services as well as the people who use them. While crisis lines like this aren’t generally run by high schoolers, they do serve a great purpose, and I truly hope that if anyone is in need they reach out to a crisis line to get help. In that vein, this book does include a page on resources that are available.