16 September 2010

ttyl / ttfn / l8r,g8r (I read banned books - nyah, nyah!)

September has my little bookclub reading our own selections that fit with the term "language" - we can read whatever we want relating in some way to that word.  I had planned to read The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English but I can't find it; the book is still in my database, so I didn't get rid of it, I must have packed it while "decluttering" my office.  The packed boxes are, unfortunately, in my parents' basement.

Rats and *le sigh*.  What will I read now?

I looked around to see what I could read quickly...and I thought about novels written in IM shorthand.  There are a decent number - particularly in the teen/YA section of the store (see? I said I was going to read more YA) - and Lauren Myracle's Internet Girls series caught my eye.  Hmmmm.  Then I remembered Myracle's series is one of the top ten banned or challenged books of 2009....Banned Books Week is coming up so bring on the banned books!!  Where's my "I read banned books" pin?  I think I have a whole envelope-full in my desk...

Back to Zoe, Maddie, and Angela.  ttyl opens as the "winsome threesome" starts their sophomore year of high school, ttfn starts at Thanksgiving of the girls' junior year, and l8r, g8r closes out the last semester of their high school careers.  The girls grow into adulthood over the course of the three books and they behave much like normal teenagers.  They talk about their bodies, having/not having sex in its various incarnations, drinking, doing drugs, playing pranks, applying to college, problems with their parents, problems with boys.  They gossip, swear, use slang.  I can see how parents can get bent out of shape with this series but the reality is that Zoe, Maddie, and Angela sound like real teenagers.  Real teenagers swear, real teenagers worry about having sex for the first time.  Real teenagers make poor decisions.

Myracle shows the girls in both good and bad situations and the consequences of the girls' decisions.  Angela is the first of the girls to get a boyfriend of-sorts but is also the first to deal with unfaithfulness in ttyl.  Maddie makes a poor choice regarding pot smoking in ttfn; although she decides to quit smoking up on her own, she ends up getting arrested while with a group of friends who are buying pot.  In l8r, g8r Zoe decides that she would like to be sexually active with her long-time boyfriend Doug so she goes to Planned Parenthood for an exam and a prescription for birth control and the couple uses condoms; if that doesn't say "responsible teenager" then I don't know what does.  The situations go on and on: cyberbullying, student-teacher relationships, college applications, relationships.  High school isn't some 1950s utopia where your hair is always perfect, your grades are wonderful, everyone is nice to you, and you have the perfect boyfriend; my high school experience was approximately 15 years ago and full of nasty pitfalls (but relatively tame compared to what happened to some kids I went to school with).  I can't imagine what high school is like now (the Internet was new when I was in high school, no one had email until they went to college) but I can tell you that kids need "real" novels as much as they need the fairy tales.

For books written entirely in IM, the series is surprisingly readable.  The level of Internet shorthand is pretty low, using fairly common abbreviations (brb, lol, omg, u, ur, y, etc).  Each girl consistently uses the same typeface/color/font, just like we do on AIM, etc., and their personalities come through the IMs.  Angela uses a lot of dramatic smilies and *gestures* to convey her meaning.  Maddie uses the most slang (it varies depending on who she's been hanging out with).  Zoe's are almost always complete sentences (like me - I haven't converted to internet shorthand very well).  Myracle never breaks with the convention of telling the story solely through IMs between the three characters.  I've read a few reviews for the series that feel using only IM makes for unreliability in the narrators but I think it lends more reality to the situation.  I was watching myself IM the other night and what's the #1 thing I do on IM?  Gossip.  What do the "winsome threesome" do first on IM in their coversations?  Gossip.  It's the first thing they do every time - they talk about what happened at school (particularly if one of them missed something), they talk about each other (especially if two are worried about the third), they talk about evil Queen Biotch Jana, then the three discuss what to do about whatever problem someone's currently having (Zoe's creepy teacher, Angela's move to California, Maddie's relationship with Ian).  That's not unreliable.  That's the reality that is IM.

Can you tell I really liked this series?  I had a lot of fun reading Zoe, Maddie, and Angela's IMs, I identified with each of the girls, and cheered them on when they took on Jana and her backstabbing ways (I had some bully trouble in junior high so I've been there).  This series should be accessible to teens - if you're a parent who really can't stand the thought of your "innocent" kid* reading a book that talks about oral sex then you'd better get ready to heilcopter parent like mad.  Better idea:  read the books your teen wants to read then talk about them.  Teens can surprise you.

*Spoken by a former teen who read all of Anne Rice's Beauty trilogy at the age of 14 while I was in the library waiting for my little brothers to pick out their books.  "Winnie-the-Pooh" is to "ttyl" as "ttyl" is to Anne Rice.  Learning about group sex and S&M didn't make my brain explode or turn me into a raving nymphomaniac (actually, it kind of did the opposite...) but it did make my hair stand on end for a while.

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