"It's a luscious mix of words and tricks
That let us bet when you know we should fold ... "
David Zimmerman's second novel, "Caring Is Creepy," gets its title from a Shins song of the same name, that is a favorite of the main character, 15-year-old Lynn Sugrue.
It's 2005, and Lynn and her best friend, Dani, are desperate for something new, something fun - anything - to make the summer go by faster.
When Dani gets a computer for her birthday, instead of a car, she enlists the help of a nerdy neighbor to hook them up to the Internet, where they start playing "The Game" - flirting with men in online chat rooms for several days and then using the information to humiliate them.
But while playing The Game online, Lynn meets a 25-year-old soldier named Logan Loy and starts to think that maybe they should meet up. The warning signs are there that this is not going to end well.
Logan is not an online creeper, just a lonely soldier suffering from undiagnosed Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
The two quickly begin to fall for each other. The reason Lynn can get away with her antics is Hayes, who has involved her in some drug-related troubles. Lynn's mother is too distracted to notice anything unusual going on.
The plot moves forward when Logan decides to go AWOL from the Army and Lynn hides him in a small storage space behind her closet. At one point, Lynn throws away his clothes in an attempt to keep him from leaving her. So now she has a naked soldier hiding away in her home and some pretty bad guys who keep coming by looking for Hayes.
Logan eventually begins to suffer from being in a cramped, enclosed space that gets quite hot in the Georgia sun during the day. He begins to act strangely, which is probably compounded by him being unable to shower or use the bathroom regularly because he's in hiding while Lynn's mother is off work for a few days.
The Logan and Hayes plot lines come together at the end when the guys looking for Hayes come to the house and Logan is convinced they are attacking enemy soldiers. A fight escalates and ends up claiming the life of an innocent neighbor. Lynn knows this has gone too far, but it's too late - the thugs are holding her family hostage and threatening to do some major damage unless they get the drugs they are looking for.
There are some minor plot points that caused me to question the likelihood of the events, but not enough to make me want to stop reading the book. The ending moves fast and is definitely the type of drama that could easily unfold on a movie or television screen. But the messy ending creates a conclusion to the book that is a little too "neat." One review reports that Zimmerman loosely based the novel's plot on a real-life incident, but to me the book's ending seemed a bit forced in its attempt to tie up all the loose ends.
There were some personality issues that definitely were confusing; at one point Logan was acting like a child and Lynn was the parent, even though there were 10 crucial years of development separating them (he was 25 and she was 15). And Lynn's newfound ability to lie with ease became alarming and creepy. There wasn't enough background information with Lynn's mother to know if this was a trait she saw while growing up or just one she quickly learned as she gained power and control over Logan.
But these quirks are what make Lynn and interesting and realistic teenager. She's impulsive, childish and irresponsible, all in the same breath."I liked knowing that he couldn't come out of the closet unless I told him it was alright," Lynn said. "I wasn't used to being able to tell someone what to do, especially someone older, and it felt nice. But it scared me a little as well, because I didn't know where all this would end. And scared me because anymore I didn't want it to."
There are several parts where a terrible ending is foreshadowed - I won't spoil it for you here - and the book does hit its climax quickly, which held me on. I thought it was an interesting twist that the predators online were actually the teenage girls and I wonder if Zimmerman knew when he was writing the book that cyber bullying would become such a national concern.