Watched by C.J. Lyons

Watched is a standalone young adult mystery novel by the author C.J. Lyons.

While browsing the Netgalley shelves a few weeks ago I came upon this title and the description caught my interest right away: cyber hacking, online security and privacy, all issues that us, people who are spending our time online day after day, are easily threatened with.

The premise is really gripping, to say the least – Jesse is a 16 year old normal boy who has a terrible secret. A ruthless online stalker, King, is blackmailing him into doing despicable things on screen, and Jesse goes along with it because King has threatened to harm his family otherwise.

Unknown to him, there are many other kids who are suffering the same fate, one of them being Miranda, a young girl who has once told NO to King and suffered the consequences of her actions. Now Miranda thinks she can not only help Jesse, but with his support she can take down King forever.

The whole idea presented in the book is quite disturbing and I know people who gave up on reading it because it was too much for them – especially if they are parents of kids of the right age. One thing I need to mention is that nowhere in the book there is anything explicitly told – everything is just hinted at, and what Jesse had to do in front of the camera is anyone’s guess (although I bet we’re all guessing correctly).

It is scary and sometimes even debilitating, because sadly these things actually happen. Cyber stalking, online bullying, online surveillance (Big Brother watching, and not only him), pedophilia, the danger of losing your privacy in front of your computer as soon as you log online. This book is even more timely what with the recent news of that infamous hacked camera website which gives peeks into people’s offices, businesses, even bedrooms. We do live in dangerous times indeed.

Let’s just say that ever since learning about that website and after reading this book, my webcam has a Post It note permanently attached to it, which is only taken off when I’m using the camera to Skype with my family abroad or close friends.

Coming back to the book, I found it really dark, and I wouldn’t necessarily categorized it under the ‘young adult’ genre. It is more of an adult book and an eye opener for any parents who have kids spending a lot of time on the internet. Of course it’s also a great book for teens to read and learn from – because these things sadly do happen. It’s not science fiction and it’s not something that only happens to ‘other people’.

As a novel though, I felt something was lacking, although I can’t really put my finger on what exactly that was. I didn’t really feel as connected to the main characters or drawn into the story  as I wanted to. When I read books, I like to feel I’m right there, inside the book with the characters being close friends of mine, while forgetting all about the outside world. It didn’t happen here, however. I was rather detached, as when reading a true crime book and not a gripping novel.

Don’t get me wrong, I still got that horrible stomach flip-flop feeling when thinking about people like King, who thing they can get away with anything – and I mean anything – they want to. It just didn’t feel the book deliver what I expected it to be – a cyber thriller. I was left with a feeling that it was more of an educational book, a gruesome warning that should be talked about in class at school.

Overall Watched was a good book, worth reading, but leave any expectations of what it should be at the door. Then you will probably enjoy it more.

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