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Book Review: Spooner’s Entrapment translates Mozart into modern teen chat angst

By Chelsey Gensel

Entrapment: A High School Tragedy in Chat, by Michael Spooner (New York: Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster Publishers, 2009) 320 pp., $16.99

A contemporary take on a classic story, Entrapment is a wild departure from Utah author Michael Spooner’s typical fare, which has largely been juvenile and young adult historical fiction based on the American Frontier.

Entrapment, on the other hand, is a modern-day teen novel, both comedic and dramatic, based on Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. Though having never heard or seen the opera, it struck me as innately Shakespearean, complete with manipulation, romance, drama, deceit and humor.

Cosi Fan Tutte’s English title is “The School for Lovers,” which seems appropriate to Spooner’s plot: best friends Bliss and Tamra scheme to test the fidelity of their respective boyfriends.

Written entirely in chat-speak, the garbled and ever-changing shorthand used by the tech-savvy to instant-message or email, Entrapment consists largely of online conversations between the girls, their boyfriends, and a third member of each gender filling the role of narrator as they try to help or hinder the girls’ experiment. They take on online personalities of “exchange students” who will soon be arriving in the students’ hometown and want to make friends before the school year begins.

The catch is, Tamra and Bliss swap roles and try to ensnare each other’s boyfriend.

Other books such as Lauren Myracle’s ttyl series have been written entirely or partially in chat-speak, and it is an effective medium for youth and young adults who grew up not only using but creating this variation of language.

Because of how fast it changes, however, this “medium” may be challenging to research for an author who didn’t grow up surrounded by it. That makes authenticity hard to achieve, and I found it hard to believe a few of the acronyms and abbreviations Spooner uses in Entrapment.

He does well, but it wasn’t perfect, and the chat-speak I hadn’t ever used or seen was distracting as I tried to figure out the context and whether it was something that the average teen actually says on Facebook chat or AIM.

I also unfortunately have to blame Spooner for his own gender—I liked his male characters much better than I liked his female characters. I think this was partially intentional and worked well for the story, but I’d have liked some more development for Bliss and Tamra’s intentions and motives.

However, the other four main characters, including one female, were intriguing, and I can’t say that my dislike for the scheming ladies kept me from reading: I finished the book in one sitting. The chat-speak makes it go quickly and also brings the entrapment to life for someone who has read instant messages that like Spooner’s almost daily.

The plot and setting are comedic and the situations created were funny, but they also had the dramatic and somewhat tragic elements that something based on an opera needs to stay true to that basis. Why didn’t Bliss and Tamra trust their boyfriends to begin with? What made them think this was the solution? How did the boys feel once the plan was uncovered and how did their relationships, romantic and otherwise, change from that point?

The book leaves some of these questions open and leaves the reader wondering not only at the direct results of the storyline they’ve just read, but at the more abstract role of the Internet as a social tool in the modern world—something that makes me think that if not classic literature, Entrapment has the potential to be historical fiction when communication changes as drastically from its current state as it has from Mozart’s opera to today.

TP