A Coming-of-Age Thriller That Will Keep Teens Guessing

Abrahams, Peter. Reality Check: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.

by Clea Weston

Water above, heavy and dead,
Black Rocks all around
and I down here holding my breath,
trophy kid come to this.
He swims to me in smiling bubbles
twisting between my legs and up my back and around my neck.
"A little bending, nothing to fear my dear."
Oh, temptation!
Far above--is there air still, still air?--
I lose sight of your face through the wet burial layer heavy and
dead. Don't go (Abrahams 95).

Cody Laredo is a small-town high school football star with passing grades, a beautiful and talented girlfriend, a car that runs, and the whole summer ahead of him. Unfortunately, good things rarely last. When his girlfriend, Clea, is sent to boarding school across the country, Cody decides that it would be best for both of them to end their relationship. Even after the pain of the break-up dulls, though, Cody is in for more bad luck. At the very beginning of his junior year, a serious injury keeps Cody from taking part in the most important football season of his high school career. He drops out of school and is working in a dead-end job when he learns that Clea has gone missing. The same day, he receives a cryptic letter from her, written on the day of her disappearance. Suddenly, Cody's priorities change. Letter in hand, he abruptly leaves his hometown, determined to find Clea near her school in Vermont. Once there, he meets many people, some of whom could even be helpful in his search, but can they be trusted? Even after the official search for Clea has been called off, Cody feels strongly that she is alive... somewhere. On his own, he continues to look for clues that might lead him to her. One of these clues is a poem Clea wrote entitled, "Bending." Upon reading the poem, Cody knows two things: First, Clea is not completely happy at her school in Vermont, and secondly, she is still in love with Cody. He will stop at nothing to find her; he just hopes he isn't too late.

Reality Check is a great book for a broad range of young adults; it has the power to reel in both avid readers and reluctant ones. Teens can easily relate to many of the novel's themes: young love; planning for the future; complicated relationships with parents. Abrahams writes with a young adult audience in mind, but the writing is also sophisticated enough that he does not insult his readers' intelligence. The fast pace and plot twists will keep teens anxiously turning the pages.

The book does contain some strong language and (non-explicit) references to sexual encounters. Therefore, it is probably best for older high school students (possibly sophomores, juniors, and seniors). It is also advisable that teachers read Reality Check to determine whether it is suitable prior to assigning or suggesting it to their students.

Recommendations for Teachers
  • Because Reality Check is a mystery, teachers might want to ask their students to make regular predictions about what is coming next. This could be done by hand in a journal, but it might also be a good opportunity to make a class discussion board using a site like Wikispaces. This would allow students to see and comment on each others' predictions.
  • Students could also write alternative endings to chapters or sections of the book. For example, how would the story have been different if Clea had received an A in calculus class?
  • This would be a great text for use in lit circles. Students will certainly have opinions about the characters, the decisions they make, the themes of the story, etc. Regular meetings with peers to talk about these items will help the students better understand and appreciate the novel.
  • To Tell the Truth Game (Wilhelm 134): This activity would probably be best at the end of the reading, as the characters will have been fully developed at that point. Several students are assigned characters from the book, and they sit on a "panel" so that their peers can ask them questions. The students on the panel then answer from their assigned characters' perspectives. It might be a good idea to give all students a list of the main characters ahead of time and to have them write down some of their basic personality traits. They could then write down a certain number of questions. These activities would be a good warm-up for the panel and will prepare students for both the role of panel member and questioner.
Wilhelm, Jeffrey D. You Gotta BE the Book: Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents. 2nd ed. New York: Teachers College Press, 2008. Print.

About Peter Abrahams

Critically-acclaimed by reviewers and peers alike (Stephen King calls him "'My favorite American suspense novelist'" (Source)), Peter Abrahams attributes his success in part to his lifelong love of reading: "As a boy, I read voraciously, almost anything I could get my hands on... I wasn't one of those unhappy kids who loses himself in books. I was a pretty happy kid who did it" (Source). While he preferred adventure stories as a child, his later influences include acclaimed Russian novelist, Vladimir Nabokov and fellow crime novelist, Graham Greene, among others (Source).

Abrahams has written 22 novels, including the bestselling Echo Falls series for middle school-age students. The first book in this series, //Down the Rabbit Hole//, earned the author an Agatha award (Source).

Abrahams attended Williams College (which he mentions in Reality Check) and worked in the fishing and radio industries before becoming a full-time writer. Today, he lives in Cape Cod with his wife and dog. He has four grown children (Source).

  • YouTube clip: Several members of a high school English class put together the video below. Although some parts are difficult to understand, they do a nice job conveying the main points and strong emotion of the story.
  • Audio clip: An interview with Peter Abrahams for HarperTeen in which he discusses Reality Check and reads an excerpt of the novel

Additional Resources:

Peter Abrahams
  • Peter Abrahams's Official Website: There is not much biographical information on this site, but there is a lot about each of his books.
  • HarperTeen website: HarperTeen (part of HarperCollins Publishers) has a biography of the author, as well as more about each of his books.
  • The Scary Parent Interview with Peter Abrahams: While this took place in late 2006, before the release of Reality Check, Abrahams discusses his take on character development, which he does well with Reality Check's protagonist, Cody.
  • Kidsreads.com: Another interview from before Reality Check, but focusing on Abrahams's transition to young adult literature with his novel Through the Rabbit Hole, the first in the Echo Falls series
  • Jennifer Minar Interview with Peter Abrahams: Did the transition from fishing to writing I mentioned in the "About Peter Abrahams" section leave you scratching your head? He talks about his journey to becoming a writer in this interview.

Teaching Reality Check

Reviews of Reality Check

-->Reviewer: Susan Michon
*Please also visit my review of Chris Crutcher's Athletic Shorts.