BooksForKidsBlog

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

"I know your secret...:" Cold Calls by Charles Benoit

The phone rang and he answered it.

No number came up on caller ID. There was a pause on the other end and then two quick clicks, and then a voice, computer generated and pitched low.

"Eric Hamilton."

Then a single whispered sentence that made his stomach drop.

Then nothing.

Eric has a secret, and someone, someone who knows how to make a call which leaves no traces, someone who has hacked his computer and found the picture of April that he should not have taken, the one no one should see, that someone clearly knows his secret.

Another call comes soon, demanding he play a silly prank--dumping school cafeteria mac and cheese on a freshman guy he doesn't even know--a prank that Eric knows will get him benched, suspended, and in major trouble at home. Still Eric knows he has to do it. April doesn't deserve the alternative.

Part of Eric's school suspension requires him to spend three days in system-wide anti-bullying classes. No one seems particularly engaged in the class, not even the teacher, until Eric overhears her and her assistant laughing about their students' explanatory essays they are collating:

..."claimed it was his twin brother, who, by the way, is two years older...."

..."said she didn't remember it, so it didn't count anymore..."

..."said a strange voice called her at night--"

Eric's head snapped up. Eyes wide, he held his breath, but Ms. Owens had moved on to other unbelievable excuses.

That's when he noticed the goth girl staring at him.

She nodded once--slowly--then flipped a page and went back to writing.
.

Goth girl, Shelly, finds him after class, and tells him they have something in common.

"It's about your secret," she says. "We need to talk."

Shelley saw Eric's reaction to what he heard, and Fatima's as well, and she has a theory that they all had the same mystery caller, one who had discovered they each had secrets that they would do almost anything to hide. When Eric and Shelley meet with Fatima, she suddenly intuits that they themselves are not the real objects of the prank: they are just the means to humiliate three strangers, three people that are the real objects of the perpetrator's revenge. Fatima offers to hack into the social media accounts of their three victims to trace their relationships back in time to discover the one person they have in common, the one victim the three must have all tormented together. The irony of the whole thing is not lost on them.

"This whole thing is crazy," Fatima said. "The people we bullied bullied the girl who's bullying us."

"So, in the end, we're all victims," Eric said.

"Yeah," Shelly said. "And we're all bullies."

But Eric, Shelly, and Fatima receive another call, asking them to carry out new orders or their secrets will be published immediately on the deadline. As time runs short, they finally identify the source of the calls, but still must find a way to purge the evidence from the extortionist's computer before she executes her threat.

In his latest, Cold Calls (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), author Charles Benoit brings together three unlikely co-conspirators in a page-turning tale in which no one is totally innocent--except those who will be hurt by the revelation of the hidden secrets. The serious theme of the long chain of school bullying is worked out amid a tangle of realistic teen relations, misunderstandings, and bad choices, as the three unlikely victims come together in a narrative that is suspenseful right down to the final, but intriguingly not concluding, page.

Other thriller-adventures by Charles Benoit include Fall from Grace and Relative Danger.

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