Monday, December 2, 2013

4 to 16 Characters

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 85.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Lemon Sherbet Press for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book.

4 to 16 Characters by Kelly Hourihan

Summary (via Goodreads):
Fifteen-year-old Jane Shilling's best friends don't know her real name.  In fact, they don't know anything about her at all.  Jane's life has collapsed in the last few years; following the death of her mother, her father turned to drinking, and Jane is reeling from the double blow.  To escape, Jane devises a number of online personas, each with a distinct personality, life history, and set of friends.  But things become trickier when she finds herself drawing close to some of her online friends, and winds up struggling with the question of how to maintain a real friendship while masquerading as a fake person.  With the help of Gary, a socially awkward classmate and competitive Skeeball player who is Jane's only offline friend, and Nora, her therapist, Jane begins to sift through her issues.  The only catch is that that involves taking a long, hard look at what her life's like when the computer is shut off, and that's a reality she's been fighting for years.

My Opinion:
This was a very emotional book, and I felt it.  I hated it for being so real and raw as I read it with sweaty palms, while at the same time I loved it for being so real and raw because it made the book so readable.  It was almost annoying how perfectly the author wrote teen angst.  This isn't a criticism of the writing; the opposite, actually.  She captured teen drama so accurately that I rolled my eyes as I remembered how important and life-changing things felt at the time but looking back now...not so much.

Some may complain about the format (presented entirely through online material like e-mails, instant messages, private blog entries, etc.) but I think it really worked for the story, a girl who spends all of her time online to escape reality.  The private blog entries are just the new version of the "Dear Diary" books I read when I was younger...same concept, updated format.  Also, being able to share her therapy sessions by having the therapist talk to her via IM to make her more comfortable...brilliant.

Two things dampened the overall experience for me.  First, the ending was a bit "Pollyanna".  I'm not a monster and I'm glad things started looking up, but the speed at which everything came together felt a little rushed after I spent the majority of the book praising its authenticity and honesty.  Second, the characters around Jane were a little one-dimensional.  Jane was written so fully and well, I was disappointed that the same thought didn't go into the people she was surrounded by.

Overall, I liked this book.  I would definitely recommend it to high school girls but it could be a little too emo-dramatic to have a big impact on an adult audience (although the writing is great and the emotional appeal is there).

Quote of the Blog:
*Since I read an ARC of this book, I can't quote directly from it as I normally would.  Instead, I've found another quote that seems fitting.
"I'm so much cooler online" ~ Brad Paisley, lyric from the song "Online" (which was running through my mind as I read this book)

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