Always Here for You by Miriam Halahmy is a cautionary tale of modern times. Inspired by the real-life events, the author was compelled to write this book because of the heart-breaking cases of two vulnerable teens who were groomed online by the adult predators.
Holly is fourteen. She lives with her parents. Dad works in a busy firm and is often tied with clients into the evening. Mum works part-time, but also looks after Gran, coping with the latest crisis.
Her best fiend Amy has moved from the UK to Canada, and by the snaps she posts online, she is having the time of her life.
"Holly had lived in Brighton all her life and she and Amy loved it; the shops, the cafes, the students in term time swigging beer and running night clubs on the beach, the Mall at Churchill Square where they would hang on wet days, the pier full of kiosks and slot machines and the pebbly beaches where they sunbathed on hot days".
Holly is worried about being left on her own in the evenings. All she wants is for Gran's Crisis to be over, so "we could get back to normal".
At school things are complicated. All the girls from school are growing away from her and going out with boys. It doesn't help that the Queen bee Madison, who's the prettiest and most popular girl in school, and her Bezzies, make fun of Holly and patronise her.
Holly is still a naïve child, who thinks that everyone except her has a boyfriend.
"If I had a boyfriend I wouldn't feel so lonely when I'm home alone. We could message each other and stuff. Hang out, like the other girls do. They were always going on about how they'd stayed half the night messaging each other".
Then one day she joins in a Shoutout from one of the girls at school: "Hey, everyone, meet Jay, nice funny guy". After checking his profile, Holly adds Jay to her friends' list. They begin to chat. Jay makes Holly laugh, and writes all the right sympathetic comments, when she complains about having no-one to hang with now, since her best friend moved abroad.
Her parents become instant irritants in her life, all she wants to do is escape to her room and go on chatting to Jay. Jay appears to be this cute, funny, adorable boy, while his messages show how much he cares for her. They have so much in common.
"Jay's in my life now. I'm not alone anymore, she told herself". Holly doesn't see that slowly Jay alienates her from her friends and family, playing on her insecurities and feelings of loneliness.
She is manipulated, but doesn't understand it. She is so eager to please Jay, that she keeps their chats private from everyone else.
And when Jay asks to meet her under the Brighton pier, she agrees...
As a grown-up and a parent, you just want to grab her by the hand and stop her: No, No, don't go there, don't trust this guy.
This book made me think how lucky I was to grow up in the times without all the social media, its pressure and dangers.
When my younger son is a bit older, I will ask him to read this book. We have talked about the dangers of the Internet. Some of his class mates already have smartphones. They're entering this scary big world so young, and so naïve.
Miriam Halahmy consulted professionals in both the public and voluntary sectors for background research for this book.
It is a useful tool for younger audience to understand the possible dangers of the Internet. Written in an engaging way, it sends a clear message how to understand the use of social media in a cautious and sensible manner.
This book is aimed at a younger audience. Personally I struggled a bit with the text-speak, as it grates on my nerves, but I appreciate it is necessary for the narrative to feel authentic.
Always Here For You would be a good resource for any school library. It tells Holly's story in a sympathetic, non-patronising way. If you have a tween or young teen in your family, get this book for them.
This book review is part of the blog tour.
Many thanks to Miriam Halahmy and ZunTold for my copy of the book!