Loutzenhiser, Katy. If You’re Out There. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 307p. ISBN: 9780062865670. $10.99. MS HS AT ***
When Zan’s best friend Priya moves to California, the two swear to stay in touch and be each other’s ride-or-dies forever. Zan is heartbroken when Priya ghosts her and completely stops responding to her messages. What hurts even more is the social media posts about Priya’s new fabulous life—they sound absolutely nothing like the old Priya. And then Zan starts to wonder: what if it’s not Priya posting them? What if the reason Priya isn’t responding to Zan is because she can’t?
If You’re Out There follows Zan as she searches to find out if Priya really is ghosting her, or if something sinister is happening. This YA contemporary is a fun and entertaining read that many teen readers will relate to. Most people have been ghosted at least once, whether it’s by a friend or a crush. But this book poses the question of what you do when that person is your best friend, the one you know would never hurt you. What do you do when you can’t accept it? How do you move on? And what do you do when you can’t?
If You’re Out There also brings to light a discussion of how women and girls are treated. Zan struggles to get her friends and family to believe her concerns for Priya and is often seen as “hysterical,” “crazy,” or “obsessive.” Everyone tells her to let the friendship go, but Zan refuses. Readers themselves will be unsure of what to believe or whether it’s all in Zan’s head.
The genre-blending style of this book will make it a great recommendation for a wide range of audiences. The thriller/mystery plotline is like a lighter, less intense version of “Monday’s Not Coming” and the novel also brings a hint of romance. This is not a fast-paced mystery read and the pacing does slow down at times, so it may not be best suited for teen readers who need a lot of action to keep them engaged.
While I would have loved to see more thriller/mystery scenes, since those were the strongest, If You’re Out There is ultimately a compelling story of female friendship. Zan is a girl who won’t take no for an answer. Fans of E. Lockhart or Lauren Oliver will enjoy this book, but the pace may be a bit too slow for dedicated YA thriller readers. This is a perfect recommendation for teens looking to try out thrillers or mysteries for the first time, or as a transitional book between middle grade mysteries and scarier YA ones.
-Ari Nussbaum, Hayward Public Library