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.
Going Underground wasn’t an easy book for me to read, mostly because I knew during the flashbacks what the end result was going to be for Del (since it’s revealed at the beginning of the book that he got into huge trouble for something and it’s basically destroyed his life). But it is also very tough subject matter, because it’s an issue that should be black and white – punishment of a sex offender – but this book shows you that there is a very, very large gray area. There were no criminals in this book, regardless of their legal histories. There were just kids who made a mistake and did something without realizing what the consequences of their actions would be and how the rest of their lives would be affected. Del may be a criminal on paper but in reality he’s something very different. He’s a victim of an overzealous legal system and political maneuvering. And without getting overly political, he’s an example of someone trying to take a moral stand and inflict their beliefs on someone else, to the detriment of that person and with a lack of common sense.
You feel awful, awful, awful for Del, who comes out as a thoughtful and intelligent young man who continues to be repeatedly kicked while he’s down further than most people could possibly stand to be. At the age of 17, his life is for all intents and purposes over. He’ll never be able to pursue his dreams or even hold down an average job because of his criminal record. He’s afraid to approach the girl he has a crush on from afar because he’ll have to tell his story and let her decide if she feels comfortable around him. I want to stay spoiler free so I won’t give much away about Del’s struggles and how everything eventually shakes out. It becomes clear throughout the course of the book, though, that Del needs to take a stand and start doing for himself instead of being terrified that every move he makes is the wrong one, and whether or not he’s able to do that is pivotal to how the story ends.
Vaught’s writing is compelling and I was extremely engrossed in the story. I liked it that the chapters toward the beginning have music that they’re supposed to be set to, since Del is so into music as a mechanism for coping with his life. It was a really unique and cool touch. Honestly, I’m probably one of the few people who keep music and books totally separate. I don’t read to music and and I don’t generally read a book and think, “hey, this song would fit this book perfectly!” Though I do have one minor quibble – Gary Jules does the best version of Mad World, not Tears for Fears or Adam Lambert.
This is a book about a tough subject that will really make you think. I really recommend it to readers of contemporary YA.