Random - Tom Leveen

One evening, the night before her trial, Tori receives a phone call from an unknown number. At first, she thinks it's just another crank caller getting ready to call her names and cuss her out before the trial. She's about to hang up on the unknown caller, but then, after he tells her he just dialed a number at random, hoping to talk to someone, she asks:
     "Why'd you call this number allegedly at random?" There's that word again. Allegedly. Maybe if I repeat it enough times, it'll lose its meaning.
     I hear the mystery caller take and release a deep breath.
     "Honestly?" he says.
     "Yeah, honestly."
     "Well, honestly . . . because I'm going to kill myself."
The mysterious caller wants Tori to talk him through the night, to give him a reason not to kill himself. While talking on the phone all night, Tori also has to confront her own actions in the death of a young man at her school, whose actions have been attributed to an incident of cyberbullying via Facebook. Unsure of how to plead in the upcoming case, and hoping not to be seen as responsible for yet another young man's suicide, Tori's evening slowly evolves to become anything but random. Told through a phone call, internal monologues, and a series of examples of the social-media-related abuse endured by Kevin Cooper, Leveen keeps things moving swiftly, telling readers just enough information to keep up the suspense.

Right from the start, readers will be caught up in the uncertainty and tension that Leveen weaves through his intriguing narrative. I read this book in one sitting; this particular novel by Leveen is one of his most engrossing yet, in my humble opinion. Discussions of fault and consequences are subtle and compelling, and the dialogue and internal monologues manage to avoid sounding overly didactic. Random is not only important in light of so many tragic and terrible instances of self-harm and suicide due to bullying, it is also an absorbing and very personal look into topics often ignored in many contemporary YA texts.

Though as an academic I do have some concerns about the treatment of non-normative sexuality, Leveen does at least acknowledge the roles of privilege and class in the context of bullying and the resulting legal and social consequences. I fear, in some ways, that the (perceived) homosexual is used as a plot device for the sake of a learning opportunity for the privileged white individual. I would discuss this in more detail here, but I don't want to give away too many plot points for eager readers of this gripping story, which, regardless of this one concern, is very much worth the read! Leveen deftly explores the cost of bullying, not only for the victim(s), but the perhaps unintended consequences for the intentional or unwitting bully. 

After all, being innocent isn't the same as being not guilty.

Recommended

(Note: This review is from and Advanced Reading Copy - Out August 2014)

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