Send Pics: ripping, brutal, amazing novel about teens, sextortion, revenge and justice
Over the past decade or so, Lauren McLaughin (previously) has written a handful of outstanding YA novels, each dealing with difficult issues of gender, personal autonomy and the casual cruelty of teens, starting with Cycler (and its sequel, Re-Cycler) (a teenaged girl who turned into a boy for four days every month); Scored (a class-conscious surveillance dystopia); The Free (a desperate novel about a teen car-thief in juvie) and now, her best book yet: Send Pics, a gripping thriller about sextortion, high school, revenge and justice.
Nikki and her friends have a reputation as the "ice queens" of Jonesville High, but their demeanor is a form of group defense against the school, dominated as it is by a cultish group of teen wrestlers whose single regional win five years before is still the pride of the school and the rich suburban parents who dominate the school board.
Suze is the new kid, a girl whose academic nomad parents raised her in exotic places, whose worldly independence marks her out as different from anyone else in Jonesville. Nikki and co welcome her in when she cuts down Tarkin Shaw, the wrestling captain who takes it as given that he has a right to the bodies of any girl in school. She becomes a fourth in their mutual aid society, and inducts them into a wider world of possibilities.
But then comes the night they attend a high-school party looking to score weed, and Suze disappears -- and they discover her half-dressed, half-conscious, in a foetid basement weight room with Tarkin Shaw, whose neanderthal wrestling buddies are guffawing and high-fiving themselves in the next room. Nikki and her friends carry Suze out and get her home, but after that, nothing is ever the same.
By Monday, Suze is -- impossibly -- dating Tarkin Shaw, and when Nikki calls her out on it, she tells Nikki that she's not interested in being friends with her or the ice queens anymore. Being friend-dumped is bad enough, but to be dumped for Tarkin Shaw -- with whom Nikki has traumatic personal history -- is intolerable.
Enter Marcus Daubney -- a senior who moonlights as a reporter for the struggling town paper -- and DeShawn Hill, his best friend, a talented modeler and roboticist who, despite his gentle demeanor and nerdy hobbies, is also a serious martial artist who steps up to defend Marcus from Tarkin and repeatedly drops the larger wrestling captain in front of all his buddies.
As the truth of what is going on dawns on Nikki and her friends, Marcus and DeShawn, they hatch a desperate plan to rescue Suze from Tarkin, who is sextorting her with nude photos he took after drugging her drink at the party. When things go horribly awry, a revenge caper turns into something much darker and more desperate, swirling with racism, class war, gender politics, and the complicated, unsatisfying nature of comeuppance.
I read this book at a single sitting, and marveled at the economy and drive of its plotting, to say nothing of the artful weaving of deep themes into a crackling thriller. McLaughlin has merged politics with a cyber-heist plot in a way that is fierce and smart, and I'm not ashamed to say that I was crying and cheering by the end of it.
Send Pics [Lauren McLaughlin/Dottir Press]
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