4 to 16 Characters by Kelly Hourihan

4 to 16 Characters

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The Internet acts as a teen’s saving grace in this angst-y but sweet YA novel.

Jane Shilling is a sullen teenage girl with an alcoholic father and no friends; but on the Internet, nobody knows that. Told exclusively through online sources—from digital journals to inboxes and instant messages—this is the story of Jane’s living more than one life. She’s created multiple personalities for herself, including the popular Rachel, a 20-something woman with a perfect family and happy life. While Jane would be content to spend her days as Rachel, writing fan fiction for a beloved sci-fi show and interacting with other sci-fi fans online, the adults in her life would like to pull her back to reality. Ever since Jane’s mother died, her therapist has been hounding her to open up, and a new math teacher harasses her for missed assignments. A school bully targets her online quirks, but Gary, a skee-ball champion and student at Jane’s school, befriends Jane both on and off the screen. He may be one of the only people Jane can open up to, along with Nora Acton, a new therapist who’s resourceful enough to chat with Jane online during their sessions. When Jane’s online personas begin to fall apart, she’ll need the help of Gary and Nora to speak her truth. This Internet narrative is surprisingly compelling and effective. Readers gain a portrait of Jane’s deceased mother in a short series of emails sent before her death; it’s a simple reply chain among Jane, her mother and her then-sober father about what to make for dinner than night, but it speaks volumes about why Jane’s life is so wrecked in the wake of her mother’s death. The sci-fi fan fiction is a bit hard to contend with, but it also works as a means to show Jane’s dissociation from the pain in her life. Readers should be prepared for total chat-speak immersion, from actions expressed between double colons to Gary’s abbreviation-happy communiqués. Throughout it all, though, Jane is a dynamic heroine, smart, angry and heartwarming in all the right ways.

An IM straight to the heart of teenagers who love texting more than talking. 


Pub Date: Nov. 7th, 2013
Publisher: Lemon Sherbet Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2013


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