Teen Tech Week: YA Fiction About Online Life
Given the central role that the Internet plays in so many people’s lives these days, it is hard to believe that this has been the case for less than 20 years. As with all great technologies, it has brought with it a whole spectrum of positive and negative changes, and has fundamentally altered the way that people meet friends, keep in touch across great distances, and express themselves.
Whether you want to keep in touch with friends both far and near, feel awkward in social situations, or are simply interested in connecting with others who share your specific interests, the Internet offers a whole new way to socialize, communicate and create.
TTYL by Lauren Myracle (2005 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers) is a great example of this. Told entirely through IMs between three friends at the beginning of their 10th grade year, the book is filled with emotion, Internet slang, and emoticons. And while the format could have felt gimmicky, Myracle uses it to tell a believable and relatable story about high school.
Where TTYL is the story of characters who are already close friends, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando is the story of two future college roommates getting to know each other via email during the summer before they start their freshman year. Despite the fact that they are across the country from one another and have never seen each other or even spoken to one another, they share their deepest thoughts and forge a friendship in fits and starts with only the Internet to connect them.
In This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith another type of relationship forms via email when movie star Graham Larkin inadvertently emails Ellie O’Neill thinking that he is emailing the person who walks his pet pig. Ellie only knows Graham’s screenname, so she has no idea he is famous until he comes to her small town to film his next role. Another take on the anonymity of online life, this is a cute romance with the internet as the key to the entire plot.
The internet also offers fans new ways to meet one another, share their passion, and let their creativity blossom. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults) is a great example of a book that captures the way that fandom has been able to thrive in the Internet age and the peculiar type of anonymous celebrity that is now possible. Cath is a shy, socially awkward college freshman who struggles to adapt to life on a large college campus. But, in the world of fanfiction, she is famous under the screenname of Magicath for her Simon Snow fics. Whether you are an avid reader of fanfiction or not, this book can’t help but make you root for Cath and understand the importance of this creative outlet in her life.
While these books show the positive side of the internet, plenty of young adult novels tackle the darker side as well. In Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt, Mallory discovers that her boyfriend has already “married” another girl in an online game. Devastated by his betrayal, she decides that she is going to mimic an earlier time, giving up the Internet, texting, and her cellphone in an attempt to find the peace of an earlier time period. The book is an interesting exploration of exactly what that would mean in a world with so much pervasive technology.
The book I am currently reading, Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman (2012 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers), looks at an even darker piece of the internet age. Abby is a high school freshman who is feeling lonely as she transitions to a new school. Despite the internet safety presentations she has heard, this leaves her open to the advances of Luke, a boy she meets on the internet. Abby is a relatable character, which enhances the sense of dread the reader feels as she is slowly drawn into an unwise relationship with a stranger she knows nothing about.
While online predators are one risk of the Internet, others exist as well, and Cory Doctorow has written young adult books about several of them. In Little Brother (2009 Best Books for Young Adults) and its sequel Homeland, he tackles issues of government surveillance from the point of view of a teen who becomes a hacktivist in reaction to the troubling response to a terrorist attack that he sees first hand. Pirate Cinema also follows a hacker in a near-future dystopia, but this time set in Britain, where intellectual property violations can lead to strict sanctions. It will give readers a new appreciation for intellectual property laws, while also telling a compelling and engaging story. Finally, For The Win looks at online multiplayer games and the players that come together from around the world to try to fix the corrupt system and abusive practices that have arisen around the games that they play.
The wide range of topics covered by the books in this post only scratch the surface of what the Internet has come to mean to people over the last two decades. As more people continue to gain access to the World Wide Web and with it the ability to connect with others all around the world, our lives will undoubtedly continue to change and evolve. It is hard to even imagine what will happen next. Will we all have feeds implanted directly into our brains as in Feed by MT Anderson (2003 Best Books for Young Adults)? Will a virtual world overtake real life in popularity like in Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2012 Alex Award Winner)? Or will the Internet develop a mind of its own as in the WWW Trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer? No matter what comes next, the fact remains that for many of us, life has already fundamentally changed due to the Internet and I can’t wait to see what will happen next. Did I miss any great books about online life? Let me know in the comments so I can add them to my to-be-read list!
- Carli Spina, currently reading Want to Go Private? by Sarah Littman