A great exploration of teen girls’ friendships in the modern age

A great exploration of teen girls’ friendships in the modern age

Selfie by Allayne L. Webster

This is another book I picked up as a pseudo-research for Fandom. I wanted to understand how modern authors incorporate social media into their narratives and use them in their stories. After starting to read Selfie by Allanyne L. Webster, I was pleased to find out that the author is Australian because I love supporting Aussie authors. I’m unsure if that connection (being an Aussie reading an Aussie author) helped or hindered my ability to engage with the characters—I live in NSW, not SA, so that could be part of it. The back cover reads:

Dene Walker picked me to be her best friend. She had the whole Tonsley High’s year eight to choose from – and she chose me.
Tully can’t believe her luck. Dene is famous. Everyone loves her. She has thousands of followers online and hundreds of sponsorship deals. Being best friends with Dene Walker is a dream come true.
Tully is soon hardly aware that her long-time bestie, Kira, exists, as she shapes her own interests and cares to be worthy of Dene’s attention.
But she’s not prepared for the heartache and confusion when Dene’s friendship is not all she imagined it to be.

Allayne L. Webster

It took me a little while to get into the story for this book. It feels like it begins in the middle, in a way. It doesn’t because it starts at the beginning of Tully and Dene’s friendship, but I guess the lack of background about Dene is a bit jarring. We do get some great exposition of Tully’s history. That is handled well, with hints at different things throughout. But it’s not fully fleshed out until Tully has also worked through many of her emotions about these things. 

I love the exploration of female friendships in this book, especially teen girls. Obviously, Dene’s status as an Instagram influencer is very different from most teen girls. Still, there is always the most popular girl in school. Seeing the dynamics between Tully and Dene and how Tully reacts to Maddy entering the picture or how the dynamics between Tully and Kira change depending on what Dene is doing. All of the different dynamics reminded me very much of life as a teen girl navigating through changing friendships and the emotions that come with that. The way your world is lost if you’re fighting with your best friend or they’re not talking to you – such teen girl angst. 

It was interesting that you’re not always in Tully’s corner because of how she treats people around her. Even having that first-person perspective where you know her inner monologue doesn’t make you want to be on her side. But again, this is very apt for teen girl emotions, especially given Tully’s family situation. Eventually, we see Tully get redemption, but the bumps along the way are a bit of a roller coaster of liking and not really liking her. It’s interesting to have a main character not be 100% likable from the drop but also not completely unlikable – but it’s also very accurate with the real world. 

Selfie by Allayne L. Webster

I loved discovering the other members of Tully’s family and their dynamics dealing with multiple things that have caused them upheaval. Her dynamics with her brother reminds me of me and my brothers, from teasing to backing each other up when we need it. 

Now, I couldn’t quite tell the time period this was supposed to be set in. This could be purposefully obtuse, but it stood out a little to me because some of the language used didn’t seem to fit the modern teen voice. This is obviously my opinion and from my perspective, and there is also the regionality of it. I know Australian slang does differ depending on where you live, but I’ve never heard someone use the word “charcoal” to say “burnt” or “burn” in any slang sort of way. The voices of the teens seemed more like those of older people trying to sound like what they think a modern teen sounds like or like a teen from the 90s. But as I said, it could be a regional thing, and teens could use some of the language in this book. And I don’t claim to have this teen voice perfected – it can be challenging for adults to nail. 

I also would have liked to explore the parasocial relationship more before Tully and Dene met. Still, the parasocial relationship is done well. The way Tully felt she knew Dene and how hurt she was by her not posting about them because Dene saw posts as work but their friendship as something real. It was well represented, and the way Tully obsessed over Dene’s every interaction or action was also a very well-depicted factor for teens in the social media age. With update accounts online that share when people like posts, follow people and post, it’s easy to become so deeply obsessed with all these small interactions. 

Another section of the back cover blurb includes:

Selfie is an engaging exploration of social media and the trickiness of separating what’s real from the glossiness of the online world. It’s a tender story about friendship and staying true to yourself.

The other thing I would have liked to see was what exactly was said about Tully after the big fight? There are hints of rumours swirling around about Tully when she’s in the depth of her despair through comments from her brother and Kira, but we’re never explicitly told. Did Tully know what was said? From my experience, online people would have been sending her DMs and attacking her. Complete strangers would have attacked Tully, especially if the rumours were around Dene. This, again, is a representation of parasocial relationships. People feel they need to defend these online influencers or celebrities. I think it would have also added to the emotional turmoil Tully was going through at the time – but maybe it would have taken it to a too-dark place. 

I did enjoy the book. It was a good young adult novel dealing with some very important themes for all young adults, and that never really go away but just change in how they’re done. Teens always have their whole world revolve around such a small space that what could be seen as small things (as indicated by Tully’s dad’s reaction to the Dene fight) are massive to them. Allayne L. Webster handles the balance of online and offline life well and how parasocial relationships can lead to a level of obsession. It represented a lot of what teens have to deal with well, but there was room to explore some of the themes more. I also love how it ended with everyone happy and having a healthier relationship with social media. It’s worth the read and definitely worth teen girls to read and try and ward them off going down the parasocial obsessive rabbit hole.

A fantastic journey through a teenager’s darkest times, but it retains hope.

A fantastic journey through a teenager’s darkest times, but it retains hope.

Solitaire by Alice Oseman

I picked up Solitaire by Alice Oseman as research for writing my own YA novel, Fandom, which deals with the online world. The back cover reads:

My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year I had friends. Things were very different, I guess, but that’s all over now. 
Now there’s Solitaire. And Michael Holden.
I don’t know what Solitaire are trying to do. And I don’t care about Michael Holden. I really don’t.

Solitaire by Alice Oseman
Solitaire by Alice Oseman

The simple mention of blogging and a skim of the book’s contents were enough to encourage me to buy it to see how the modern world is narratively and stylistically incorporated into the book. I didn’t realise (despite the author’s name, the main character’s name and the feature of a book called Nick & Charlie on the back cover) that this book was in the Heartstopper world – I had watched the Netflix show and loved it. I also had purchased the first graphic novel to read but hadn’t gotten to it. It wasn’t until I began reading and recognised things like the school name Higgs that I started to twig the connection between Solitaire and Heartsopper. I looked it up and found out this book is set after Heartstopper Book 5 (which hadn’t been released yet but is out now). I didn’t mind the spoilers because I’d watched the show before reading any of the books anyway – but knowing this made me love this book more.

What I loved about Solitaire after discovering it’s about Charlie from Heartstopper’s sister Tori was that it gave us so much more character information and development for Tori. I loved Tori in the show and would’ve loved to see more of her. Still, I understand the focus is on Nick and Charlie’s story, so I really loved getting that extra dose of Tori in Solitaire. 

Solitaire’s central theme is Tori’s battle with teen angst that is compounded by a mental health breakdown of sorts and being sort of taunted by this elusive Solitaire figure. The novel builds her character as a very dark and gloomy character who looks at the world through a greyed lens. But she’s never unlikeable – or at least I never found her unlikeable – her darkness and gloominess aren’t ever to the point that you just want to slap her and tell her life is better. You empathise with her. You can also sense something else going on. We all know the feelings of otherness as a teen, which is the core of Tori’s darkness. She’s different, so she others herself so that she doesn’t have to pretend to be anyone else. 

The journey you go on with Tori has you, as the reader, always barracking for her. You don’t want her to change. You just want her to succeed in what she’s doing. Whether that’s discovering what or who Solitaire is or just getting through school.

You also get some extra insight into some of Heartstopper’s main characters, with Nick and Charlie popping up at different points…and another one I won’t spoil. I like the extra insight into the Spring family and its dynamics. Especially how they deal with the difficult things they’ve been through and are going through. 

I loved this book so much that I instantly jumped into reading all the Heartstopper books. I also bought the boxed set of Alice Oseman’s other books. So now I have Radio Silence, I Was Born For This, Loveless, Nick & Charlie and This Winter ready to read when I want.

Oseman nails the voice of her characters and engages the reader with well-thought-out character development and vivid descriptions of the setting. The stories she weaves are relatable to teens and those who have been teens. She weaved modern technology into the story of Solitaire well without doing it in a way that would age the book too much when technology moves on. Solitaire was, in fact, Alice’s first novel written when she was a teen herself, which explains why she can nail the teen voice and world so well. But it also doesn’t read like some youthful story only for those of that age group. The themes of friendship, finding yourself, and mental health are themes that many people can relate to, no matter their age. 

If you’re looking for an easy read that’s enjoyable and engaging but also deals with some very real topics, Solitaire is for you.