Tuesday, June 26, 2012

ttyl, by Lauren Myracle (2004)

It should come as no surprise that somebody would write a novel entirely in instant messaging format. I don't know if Lauren Myracle was the first to do so, but her novels seem to be the most popular of their type. ttyl was written back when instant messaging services like AOL Instant Messenger were still popular. I can still recall with some nostalgia the blips and bloops for sent and received messages, the ways you could customize your font, and the omnipresent smiley faces. Nowadays AIM is a cyber ghost town. Perhaps you've logged onto your account and found nothing but the wind whistling and the tumbleweeds rolling by. People send text messages nowadays. Still, the novel doesn't seem antiquated or anything. Text messaging isn't really much different from instant messaging. Also, Myracle writes with a vibrant energy that almost carries the novel through to its finish, but falters in its finale.

Myracle positions us, the reader, as an observer of a series of instant messages sent between three different friends: Maddie (screen name, madmaddie), Angel (SnowAngel), and Zoe (zoegirl). Each girl has a different type of font, SnowAngel's in blue, madmaddie's in bolded black, and zoegirl's in normal black font. They also have different personalities. SnowAngel is the social butterfly and craves attention from boys. madmaddie is sarcastic and tends to get down on herself. zoegirl is the good Christian girl who earns straight "A"s.

The 10th grade school year has just started, and so has the drama. Each girl has their own conflict to face, and these conflicts mostly end predictably. SnowAngel becomes infatuated with a boy, and they start going out, but then another girl starts to invade her territory. madmaddie is having problems with a girl named Jana, who has a reputation for stabbing her friends in the back. A friendship between Jana and madmaddie blossoms when madmaddie gets her driver's license and a car, a friendship whose fate you can probably guess. zoegirl has perhaps the most interesting conflict. Her English teacher, Mr. H, has begun asking her to go to church and fellowship meetings with him. Her mom, generally restrictive of her daughter's doings, is pleased, and even zoegirl is delighted and happy. Being a teacher and a Christian, zoegirl and her mother obviously put good faith in his intentions, plus he's young and handsome. This relationship develops into the most troubling conflict in the whole story.

Myracle writes with a great deal of energy. Some authors write with so much energy it's overwhelming, but Myracle finds the perfect pitch. There's also a good deal of humor, and I laughed out loud during many parts. She seems to have a good grasp on how teenage girls really speak, and some of her language can be shocking. The girls curse now and then, and there is some graphic sexual language here and there. Alcohol is a factor at one point. For these reasons the book, and the trilogy as a whole, have been among the most challenged books in the country over the past decade. I think Myracle writes the way teenagers really do speak (not all, but many), but parents and other authority figures don't like to admit this. I think teenage girls would find the content enjoyable and relatable.

One of the problems with a story told in this format is that you're getting all of the details either before the fact or after the fact. We see the excitement of two girls planning a surprise party for the other, and then we see them talking about it afterward. In a more traditional narrative, the immediacy would have added to the emotional content of the novel, particularly suspense or fear, but in the way it is told, we know nothing truly terrible could have happened, because the girls are fine enough to send instant messages.

There aren't very many real conflicts until the last two-thirds of the book, and then the formulaic conflicts come into play: friendships being tested and whatnot. One of these simply does not make any sense, but feels forced, and its resolution comes out of nowhere. I feel conflicted about the way the Mr. H situation is handled. I think Myracle portrays that dilemma with a lot of insight into the psyche of a teenage girl. zoegirl doesn't know if she is being victimized or not, and she begins to blame herself. I've seen this kind of behavior in college-aged girls as well, so zoegirl's dialogue with her friends rings true. Also, her friends realize something isn't right, but are afraid to tell her so, out of fear of harming their friendship. This is the wrong decision to make, but I have no doubt many teenage girls would do this. The book reflects reality, but I believe it would be more helpful to young adults if it reflected the better choice.

The novel is the first in a trilogy, with the next two books titled ttfn and l8r g8r. I will read ttfn only because I picked it up at the same library book sale I picked up ttyl, though I'll probably stop there. I enjoyed the book for a while, but its conclusion just doesn't work, and the style of the book can't really hold up. I wouldn't not recommend this to a teenage girl, because she could probably relate to it better, but if that teenage girl happens to be your daughter, I would recommend having a discussion with her about what happens at the end, just to make sure she doesn't come away with any wrong ideas.

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