Author: Shelley Hrdlitschka
Publication Year: 2008
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Source: Borrowed from a classroom library at my school
From the cover:
It’s “bead season” at Slippery Rock High. This year the bead-snatching grad game called Gotcha has been banned as an official school activity because the teachers have decided to put an end to what they consider a dangerous tradition. The game goes underground, and more grads than ever are participating.
The game quickly spins out of control, and Katie finds herself losing friends and falling victim to her classmates’ obsession with Gotcha. She considers dropping out of the game but then devises a better way of getting even with her classmates.
I’d never heard of this book until I spotted it in a colleague’s classroom in a pile of books she’d received from another school. Truthfully, it was the cover shot and title that originally caught my eye – over the past few years, there’s been a lot of sporadic publicity about a game involving bracelets and sexual acts among students, and I thought this book might be similar to that.
It was, and yet it wasn’t. Gotcha! is about a game (called, originally, “Gotcha”) where each graduating student who chooses to participate gets one single bead, along with a slip of paper that has the name of another student in the game. The point of the game is to “get” the bead off the student you are supposed to be targeting, until only one student is left standing – and holding all of the beads. The only way to be safe is to link arms with another student (though for this year only, the school is also considered safe ground, since the game has been officially banned and students cannot play it there).
Right from the beginning of the book, there are hints dropped that the game has gotten out of hand in previous years. There are even some hints about what kinds of things have happened, but those really don’t come into play very much until near the end of the book – something that I actually felt hurt the plot quite a bit. It wasn’t really clear to me why the game had to be such a secret from the school staff, which led me to be suspicious right from the get-go that something horrible was going to happen. I guess that was the point, but it would have worked just as well to let the reader know that the game had violent repercussions in previous years early on – I still would have wanted to read on to find out what would happen, possibly even more so if I knew sort of what to expect.
The most interesting thing to me about Gotcha! wasn’t the game itself, but the way that the students all behaved once the game started. It was a great narrative about gang/group psychology and the horrifying mob mentality that can come into play when people stop feeling responsible for their own actions and get caught up in the heat of things.
While parts of the book seemed overly contrived, I still really enjoyed the read and hard a hard time putting it down. I wanted to know what would happen next – in fact, I finished reading Gotcha! in a couple of hours one afternoon. It’s not the best novel I’ve read in a while, but it wasn’t too shabby.
Definitely a great choice for teenagers to read on their own or as part of a course – there are so many things going on it that would lend themselves to interesting discussions.