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Sixteen-year-old Cara Lange is lonely. She lacks the courage and confidence required to even try to make a much-needed friend. She longs for her childhood friend, Zoe, who oozed enough courage and confidence for the both of them. She loved hanging out with Zoe, whose wildness and creativity always made for a good time. But then Cara's family moved away, and though they exchanged letters for a while, eventually they lost touch.

Lunch is one of the hardest parts of the school day for Cara. She tentatively slides in next to her track teammates at their table, but for the most part, even they ignore her. Of course, being ignored is better than the cruel bullying she endures from popular Alexis and her friends, which gets worse after the choking incident in the cafeteria. They start calling her "Choker" and torment her even more.

But then Zoe shows up unexpectedly, just when Cara needs a friend more than ever. Zoe tells Cara that the abuse from her stepfather just got too bad and she had to leave. Being a runaway and needing a place to stay, Cara agrees to hide Zoe in her room, and with her parents constantly working, the deception is relatively easy to pull off. Cara is thrilled to have her best friend back, and with Zoe's encouragement and support, she starts gaining some confidence, enough so to even hold a conversation with the handsome Ethan.

However, Alexis and her friends experience some tragic accidents, and then Zoe starts acting a bit strangely. Cara can't help but wonder if Zoe is responsible. Could she actually be getting revenge on the bullies? Is she carrying the loyalty of friendship too far?

Elizabeth Woods is a newcomer to the publishing world, but she thoroughly proves that she has what it takes to be a successful author. She does an amazing job with her characters' development and progression throughout the story. You'll be drawn to Cara and feel her pain, and you'll want to reach out and give her a hug and the gift of friendship. You'll also be a little in awe of Zoe and anxious about her behavior, even though Cara relies on her so much.

This clever thriller moves fast, with the tension and mystery building steadily throughout the pages. A bit of romance adds a few sweet spots, while other emotions, like fear, guilt and despair, add to the suspense. However, I should note that there are a couple of disturbing scenes and some language that may be upsetting for the younger or more sensitive readers. Overall, though, CHOKER is an exciting read, and fans will be waiting impatiently for Woods to share her writing talents again.

Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on October 18, 2011

by Elizabeth Woods