Being part of the internet generation has opened youngsters up to boundless possibilities. 4 to 16 Characters follows the dysfunctional life of 15 year old Jane Shilling. She has no real life friends, her mother passed away a year previously, her dad has fallen into alcholism and she throws herself wholeheartedly into the internet, where she lives vicariously through her alteregos.
Chapters are traded in for chatlogs, blog entries and snippets of fanfiction for Look to Tomorrow. What’s most interesting about Jane is not just the comfort she finds in the internet, but that her use of various profiles directly correlates with her current emotions. Ethan, the suicidal goth kid, is only used when she’s in a very dark place. It is ultimately her coping mechanism, and a way to dodge reality.
And it is quite interesting, purely because it seems realistic. Being heavily involved in a fandom is not a new phenomenon, and the obsessive behaviour is represented pretty well. More so, many use it for a creative outlet in happy times let alone more difficult ones.
Using her blogs to document her journey – with emphasis put on the fact they’re ‘public’ toward the end – makes it easy to fall into. Jane as a character is easy to dislike at times for being a bratty teenager – her overreactions to being asked to do homework she’s routinely skipped, or snapping at her only friend for making an honest comment, or even her way of dealing with therapists goes off the chart. Put that down to grief if you will, but there is an underlying tone of brat at times.
Her productivity and determination is another high point. Haven’t we all had a goal at 15 to win some dream-come-true contest and have your life turned up-side-down? Another point for the internet’s power – it can distract you, but it can also be your motivation, and bring hope in the shittiest of times.
There is, however, some bumps. The chats with Gary are at times difficult to get through. The spelling is horrendous (obviously intentionally, but that doesn’t make it any more enjoyable), and the constant LOL & ROFLMAO in all her chats really does grate after a while. Another little thing – the chat times aren’t completely realistic. A few seconds pass between massive paragraphs being written and once you notice the teeny time lapses once, you notice it a thousand times.
The realistic portrayal of a distraught and lonely teenager finding solace in the internet is interesting, and fandom is hit on the nose. More so, the fact it encroaches on her real life after a while is telling. It is easy to relate to as someone who has been through the typical teen obsessions, and will likely translate well to others in a similar position now. A nice and interesting story and character development, but the style of writing could certainly alienate some readers.
Publication date: 7th November 2013.