4 to 16 Characters – Kelly Hourihan


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.


Hmm, I’m not really sure what to make of this book.

The beginning really interested me, mostly because I could kind of relate to Jane’s Internet life. I mean, I’ve been using the computer since I was little, and I’ve had many, many personas. I think it started when I was 8 or 10 or something, back when I played Ragnarok Online with my brother’s teenage friends and didn’t want to seem so young. And there was one time when I pretended to be three people who “knew each other” and conversed on a forum for others to read (kind of like Ethan’s emo epic). And a few years ago, I definitely threw myself in the fandom world. But I never did it to escape the way Jane did. I’m glad they mentioned that others held up Internet personas, and some people take things as a part of their lives versus as means to take over their lives.

The thing is, this book got kind of… dragging around the middle. By the time I got to the end, I was smiling and happy, but I still felt like a lot of aspects were unresolved (e.g. Jane’s resistance to school — perhaps Spectrum ISN’T the right place for her, considering how she feels about it?). It was really hard to get engaged in the middle of the book because it felt like I was merely reading a book, rather than a “real” story. Reading rather than experiencing adds one degree of separation, and the “Internet-only”-style adds another degree of separation. I mean, I was consciously aware I was reading something rather than immersing myself in it.

Another thing, the book is really, really current. By that, I mean I don’t see it lasting through the test of time, mostly because the Internet is constantly changing. Even referencing getting pictures off Flickr doesn’t seem that likely today, because Flickr is predominantly used for more professional shots, and selfies are more prevalent on Instagram. Regardless, a lot of today’s relevant sites showed up in some sort of equivalent form — Facebook, Tumblr, Wikipedia, Google, Yahoo, Livejournal, Skype/MSN (because MSN doesn’t exist anymore), and fanfiction sites. This was kind of inconsistent though — sites like Mapquest and Flickr were referenced in full while sites like Facebook and Tumblr were renamed to Friendslink and Recirclr, respectively.

Still, I liked how Jane’s life changed/progressed in so many small ways, a little at a time, until it all culminated in somewhat apocalyptic swells all at once. I liked getting insight to her thought process, truly thinking that the best way to grieve was to distract herself. Those beliefs were reflected throughout all her personas in small ways, which I appreciated. By the end, I felt like there was hope for her to grieve and get through her problems in a constructive manner with a good support system for her to go to.

Related Reading

  • TTYL (series) – Lauren Myracle
  • Top 8 (series) – Katie Finn
  • Jealous? (The Ashleys #2) – Melissa de la Cruz
  • Attachments – Rainbow Rowell (and probably Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell even more so, but it hasn’t been released and I haven’t read it yet)

Rating: 4/5

Note: I received an advanced copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


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