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Coming of Age Online: Social Media in YA Literature

Teens today are coming of age in an environment saturated with social media, so it’s no surprise it’s featured prominently in the plots of many young adult novels. When I started noticing a trend of books that explore the impact that social media has on the lives of teens, I decided it would be interesting to compile a list showcasing the various ways that teens’ use of Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and other social media are depicted in young adult literature.

social media in ya lit the hub

Lauren Myracle’s Internet Girls series is inventive in structure and form, but the story of girls chatting online and communicating in a virtual space is also groundbreaking in the way it examines the social lives of teens. TTYL was a 2005 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, and the fourth installment in the series, YOLO, is due out this year. Two other recent publications also explore internet culture. Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff explores the social aspects of online role-playing games, and the main character in Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, is more at home in the online world of the fandom of her favorite book than in the real world where she’s freshman in college. These novels explore teen identity through the juxtaposition of online identity and “real life” personas.

social media in ya lit online culture

Even as Facebook’s popularity among teens is on the decline, it’s still a part of most teen’s daily lives. #scandal by Sarah Ockler and Unfriended by Rachel Vail are both about how social media effects friendships. #scandal is about a girl whose unexpected kiss from her best friend’s boyfriend being revealed publicly on Facebook and the fallout that causes, and will be of interest to older teens who like realistic drama and romance. Unfriended has more appeal for younger teens, and examines the way social media augments a group of middle school students. Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt is about finding balance. When she catches her boyfriend “cheating” on her with an online girlfriend, she swears off modern conveniences and social media in an attempt to take control of her life.

social media in ya lit facebook

Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar, Great by Sara Benincasa, and Don’t Call Me Baby by Gwendolyn Heasley all explore how internet fame through blogs, and its impact on the identity of teens. The anonymous narrator Gossip Girl is an inventive device used to peer at the drama of fashionable teens in New York City. In Great, a teen constructs an entirely new and false identity as a fashion blogger in order to connect with a long lost childhood friend. The protagonist of Don’t Call Me Baby has had her life since birth shared online by her mother, a popular blogger, and resents the attention and lack of privacy. In these novels, the pressures of an online persona complicate the protagonists lives. While an online identity can provide freedom, it can also be create unfair expectations.

social media in ya lit blogging

The narrators of #16thingsIthoughtweretrue by Janet Gurtler and Adorkable by Sarra Manning are both Twitter-obsessed and have hordes of followers—but does that mean they have “real” friends? Like the young adult novels that feature social media, teens today are grappling with the issues presented in these books about the sometimes false intimacy of online interactions, and of constructing an identity both on and offline.

social media in ya lit twitter

The world of social media provides fodder for the reboot of Scholastic’s horror imprint, Point. In Defriended by Ruth Baron, a teen is excited to meet a girl online who shares his interests, only to find that an online search reveals the link to her obituary. In Followers by Anna Davies, someone is live-tweeting the murders of the cast of the school play. In Davies’ other contribution to the line, Identity Thefta popular overachiever is impersonated online by a doppelganger who creates a “fake” profile to embarrass her. These plots give a modern twists to the mystery and horror novels popular in the ’90s. Think R.L. Stine or Lois Duncan for the internet generation.

social media in YA lit horror

Young adult literature is also speculating about how elements of social media will impact society in the future. What if you could crowdsource all your decisions through an app? Lauren Miller examines this premise in Free to Fall. In Scott Westerfeld’s Extras, a 2008 Teens’ Top Ten Selection, social media has become a kind of currency. In Feed by M.T. Anderson, teens have the internet hard-wired into their brains. The implications of extending current trends in social media just a little bit further is frightening, most of all because it seems possible.

social media and yalit future

Social media is embedded in the daily lives of teens, so it’s safe to say it will continue to play a prominent role in the plots of young adult novels. Fiction is a great way for teens to explore the issues they are grappling with in real life, including the way that social media impacts identity and relationships.

Do you think that young adult literature accurately reflects the reality of the way teens use social media? Are there other titles that explore this dynamic? 

— Molly Wetta, currently reading Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers and The Fever by Megan Abbott

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Molly is the Senior Librarian for Youth Services, Programming, and Marketing at Santa Barbara (CA) Public Library. She is a former member manager of YALSA's The Hub.

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