I’ve seen a lot of discussion on several blogs lately about how readers feel about the use of social media and other very specific technological references in our books. On the one hand, some readers find including social media runs the risk of dating the books unnecessarily when it makes out-of-date references. On the other hand, social media has become such a huge part of many people’s lives that it makes the books seem more contemporary.
As technology becomes more firmly entrenched in our lives, I’m noticing more books that use social media as a main plot device. It’s funny sometimes going back to look at older books from the start of the Internet age, which focus almost exclusively on online predators and other pitfalls. That’s not to say that the risks of social media and the Internet should not be mentioned — it is very important to remain aware of the potential dangers and to keep ourselves safe. However, I think it just as important to break away from some of these stereotypes and recognize that the majority of people using social media are just regular people trying to interact with their friends and relatives, and participating in groups and discussions about their interests.
As someone who has made some great online friendships over the years, I have really appreciated how books have evolved a bit to include more positive relationships and friendships that develop online. I also really appreciate how more books are including different angles on social media — the risks are not just random strangers you meet online. It’s quite scary how many people in real life fall victim to cyberbullying, harassment and other online issues involving people that they know in real life. I think it’s great that books are starting to reflect this reality as well. There have been so many recent releases that focus on how social media affects our lives, but unfortunately I have not had a chance to get to most of them yet. Instead, for this week’s topic I will talk about ten of the books I’ve read so far that have plots that focus on social media in a variety of forms.
Top 10 Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish
1) Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
I will admit that this book is not the most realistic, but it was quite an entertaining read. This book is about a man named Lincoln who works as a security officer for a company, where his role is to monitor employee’s emails and ensure that they are being used appropriately for work purposes. In the course of his work, Lincoln becomes fascinated by conversations between two women, Beth and Jennifer, eventually falling in love with Beth through her messages. However, Lincoln struggles with what to do about his feelings since he and Beth have technically never met. Employees at this office know that their email accounts are monitored, but I don’t think anyone would assume their messages were being read fully. What I loved about this book is all the near-misses between Lincoln and Beth, where they could have met but didn’t. It was a fun book, although hardly the most realistic account of online relationships.
2) Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberley McCreight
Social media is such a great tool for mysteries and thrillers, since so much of what we do online can be different from our “real” lives. In this book, Kate Baron receives a phone call from her daughter’s school claiming that her daughter, Amelia, has been caught cheating. By the time Kate arrives at the school, Amelia has died from an apparent suicide. Kate soon begins to receive anonymous texts telling her that Amelia did not jump, and she begins to look through Amelia’s texts and online messages to try to piece together what happened to her daughter. This was one of the first social media-heavy books that I read, and it was an excellent story.
3) Goodnight Tweetheart by Teresa Medeiros
This is a book I’ve mentioned a few times before because it was one that really surprised me. It is about an author named Abigail Donovan who is pressured by her publicist to develop more of a Twitter presence to keep her name out there while she struggles to write her next book. Abigail quickly begins to interact with one of her Twitter follows, a man named Mark, developing feelings for him. This is one of the fairly typical “online friend might not be what they say” stories, but it is handled very well. I loved how the author was able to develop her characters so well using mostly Tweets and direct messages, and the interactions between Abigail and Mark were great! This is a very quick read, but it was one of my favourite books of the year when I read it.
4) The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke
This is a book that I read more recently, and it was another one that really surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. Compared to other social media books, it has a bit more of a magical realism slant. This book is about a woman named Kate who was recently dumped by her fiance. Kate is obsessed with Facebook and she quickly discovers that the statuses she posts are affecting her real life, giving her the idea to use Facebook to go back and fix her relationship. I went into this book not expecting very much, and ended up absolutely loving it! It was a much stronger book than I expected, although the social media angle actually was not used quite as much as I thought it would be. I would still say it fits though, since it was a central plot point to set things in motion.
5) The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
In a sense, this book is the YA version of The Status of All Things (and predates it by about five years). This book is about two teenage neighbours in 1996 who receive a free AOL CD in the mail. When they put it into the computer, they are automatically logged into Facebook, 8 years before the website even existed! The profiles they see are of themselves 15 years in the future, and the decisions they make today have consequences that can be seen when they refresh their pages. It’s been several years since I read this one, so it is hard for me to remember specifics. I just remember that I really enjoyed it, although not quite as much as Thirteen Reasons Why.
6) Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson
Honestly, this was such a weird book for me. It was one of the books that I was most strongly looking forward to reading this year, and it wasn’t quite what I expected. This book is about two young women who meet online because both are heavily involved in the fandom of one of their favourite TV shows. Gena, who is getting ready to go to college, keeps up a popular blog and writes fanfiction, and Finn is in a long-term relationship with a man who knows nothing about her online life. The two young women begin to interact online and develop a fast friendship, and even feelings for each other. I thought this book did an excellent job of developing the online friendship between the two characters and I loved the first half where this was the focus. The second half of the book took a bit of a strange turn toward a darker storyline, and the relationship between Gena and Finn became a bit weird. It honestly almost felt like an entirely different story that the authors were trying to fit in, but it didn’t quite match with the rest. It is still a great book and I enjoyed it though, and I think it is worth giving a chance.
7) Flat-Out Love by Jessica Park
This is another book that was a great depiction of developing an online relationship, including the risks. This book is about a teenage girl named Julie who moves in with her mother’s old college roommate and her family after her off-campus housing opportunity falls through. The family has three children: Finn, who is away travelling the world; Matt, the geeky middle child who is Julie’s age; and Celeste, an odd 13-year-old who carries around a life-size cutout of her oldest brother everywhere. Julie develops an online friendship with Finn, without ever meeting him, and soon develops feelings for him. However, she also tries to uncover what is really going on with the family, especially Celeste’s unusual behaviour. While the “twist” in this book was a little on the predictable side, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the online relationship development, and the very realistic way that it played out. Although Julie was an irritating main character at times, I thought it was a great book.
8) Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Aside from online relationships, another huge aspect of social media is fandom and online communities. In this book, Cath is a huge fan of Simon Snow (a Harry Potter type series) and has been heavily involved in the fandom, even writing her own very popular fanfiction. Cath is devastated to find her twin sister wants to branch out a bit more now that they are starting college, and that her professor does not consider fanfiction “real” writing. I really loved all the snippets of Cath’s fanfiction that were interspersed throughout the story, and the emphasis placed on how important the fandom was to her. Although I have never written any fanfiction, I do enjoy reading it and participating in online discussions about my favourite TV shows, music, etc. (and books of course!). I think it’s great that authors are starting to include online hobbies as a normal part of their character’s lives. This was an excellent book, and one of my favourites of the year so far.
9) Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
This is another book where social media is not necessarily the main focus, but it plays a pretty significant role in the story. This book is about a gender-fluid teenager named Riley, who under the advice of a therapist, begins blogging anonymously about their feelings and experiences. When Riley’s blog goes viral, someone threatens to reveal who is behind it, forcing Riley to choose between giving up everything the blog has done to help, or risking everything by coming out. Aside from this book being a great introduction to gender-fluidity for people (like me) who are not familiar with it, I loved how it incorporated the blog and the idea of an online support group or community. I think it is important to show the variety of ways the Internet is used in our daily lives, and finding a supportive community is definitely an important one.
10) Feed by Mira Grant
This is probably the most unusual of all the books here, blending social media and zombies. This book takes place in a world where humans have cured cancer and the common cold, but in the process created an infection that takes turns people into zombies that are only driven to feed. Since the usual news channels are all controlled by the government, the public depends on bloggers to post the truth. This book focuses on three bloggers: Georgia, her brother Shaun, and their friend Buffy who are following a presidential candidate on his campaign to post honest updates about the elections. I am generally not a fan of zombie stories, but I loved the social media angle on this one. I thought it was a really interesting way of showing the importance of critical thinking about the media and how bloggers can help give an alternative view. I found the book a little long and repetitive, but it was still a pretty interesting read and definitely a unique take on social media.