This hidden gem deals with the current vexing topic of kids “sexting,” that is, posting and sending unflattering sexual pictures and videos of themselves over the internet. Fifteen-year-old Jake Bergamot receives just such a video from Daisy, a 13-year-old admirer and schoolmate he meets at a party. In an unthinking moment of bravado, disgust, confusion—we are never quite sure which (indeed Jake himself is never 100% sure), he forwards the email to one of his buddies.

The rest is history as the video quickly goes viral: Jake and Daisy become instant pariahs. Jake’s family must deal with his expulsion from school and the legal ramifications of his having disseminated what amounts to child pornography. His ambitious dad, Richard, wants to “handle” the situation as he would any other pesky problem at work—with a cool head and a plan. Meanwhile, Jake's emotionally-stilted mom, Lizzie, grows ever more depressed as she becomes unwittingly addicted to internet porn while fantasizing about her college TA. And in the midst of all this turmoil, they plop adopted kindergartner, Coco, in front of the TV for weeks on end in an effort to shield her from the unseemly goings on around her, but she quietly absorbs all the toxic fallout nonetheless.

Not only is this the story of the Bergamot family’s collective downfall from one careless “click,” it is a scathing indictment of our communal addiction to electronic gizmos that have turned what was once private and unspoken into “content” for on-demand public consumption. We now have personal, portable, 24/7 access to everything and anything the world once considered bizarre and perverse. Today’s kids consume “screen sex” as readily as earlier generations popped Pez. And all the while, parents are at once too focused on their kids and too concerned about “making it” to consider in any meaningful way the injury these infectious glowing devices are causing their children and families—until it is too late.

Author Helen Schulman best sums up this generational sea change through Richard Bergamot's brooding over his son's fall from grace:

“Richard’s father loved him, too. Dad was a family man. He didn’t live so far from the ground. Dad didn’t focus on him, he didn’t coddle him, he didn’t help him with his homework or take his emotional temperature three times a day or do any of the things Richard and Lizzie do now, along with eating and breathing, as a way of life. Dad loved his boys within reason. Dad’s was a reasonable, conditional love, the condition being that Richard kept his nose clean, that he always did his best, that he conducted himself with honor.

“Richard and Lizzie and the girl’s parents, all the other parents at that school—they are both too close to their children and too far away from the ground. They are too accomplished. They have accumulated too much. They expect too much. They demand too much. They even love their kids too much. This love is crippling in its way.”

If you’ve ever had occasion to wonder, as every generation of parents does, “What’s wrong with kids nowadays?” this passage contains much wisdom and insight. My one quibble with the book is the somewhat jarring (and confusing) shift to third person present tense whenever the author narrates from Richard’s point of view. This was obviously a deliberate choice (the other chapters are consistently third person past tense). Are Richard’s perceptions supposed to be more “immediate” than the other family members’? And if so, why?

That nit-pick aside, Helen Schulman delivers a timely, compelling, and emotionally-charged story in a compact 222 pages. Against the backdrop of a simple, fast-paced tale flowing with artistic prose, she asks—subtly yet stubbornly—“What is technology doing to our kids?” Indeed, we might all take a second to ponder what will become of our lives now that a parallel “virtual universe” has overtaken our minds like an unchecked epidemic.