Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book Review: 4 to 16 Characters by Kelly Hourihan

ISBN: 9780989741101
Published: November 7th, 2013
Publisher: Lemon Sherbet Press
Read from September 4th to 20th, 2013
Synopsis from 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.


I really had no idea what I was getting into when I started this book. I was looking for something to read on Netgalley, and it caught my eye primarily because of the fact that it is about a girl who spends a lot of time online. I'm always interested in books that try to portray Internet culture because it can be done brilliantly or horribly. I wasn't expecting just how deeply this book would also delve into mental illness.

I cannot stress how much I loved this book. It was one of my favorite reads this year. The book is told entirely through what Jane is doing online. That means emails, chat logs, posts on a diary site that will remind many people of Livejournal, and posts on a website that had to be inspired by Tumblr. This means that each section is relatively short, and there are no chapters of any kind. These kinds of books are always hit or miss with me because it can be difficult to get emotion across when writing in that way, but believe me when I say that the emotion gets across in this book. I cried multiple times while reading. It kind of made me an emotional mess.

Jane is such a relatable character to me. There are a lot of people who would read this book and not connect with her, but I do in so many ways. She's very involved in Internet culture and fandom, just like I have been since I was a preteen. Jane is struggling with depression to though, and while I have never been through what she goes through, I know all about using the Internet as a way to escape from the "real world," especially when it comes to my struggle with social anxiety. I've never created alternate identities like Jane, but I still understood her motivation perfectly and completely got it.

Anyone who spends a significant amount of time on the Internet or struggles with depression or other mental illnesses will be able to relate to Jane in this book. To anyone that doesn't fit one (or both) of those two things, I think this book is a good way to kind of help people understand what it's like to be so involved on the Internet and what it's like to struggle with depression and use the Internet as a coping mechanism. I could see the book setting the stereotype that the Internet is a way for people to mask their problems and that everyone involved in fandom is like that, but I don't see it like that at all. Not everyone involved in fandom is mentally ill, but many people do use fandom as an escape in at least some capacity. Jane serves as a somewhat exaggerated example of that. However, so many teens struggle with depression and other mental illnesses, so it is wonderful to have books that address that in a realistic and relatable way. I have no doubt that many, many people could relate to Jane and her situation.

This is one of those books that I just want to give to everyone. Not only is it a book that I emotionally connected to, but it's a great book to get people around you to understand what you spend all your time on the Internet doing. I highly recommend this one. I really do.

Note: I received this book for free through Netgalley for review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.

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