ttyl by Lauren Myracle
Review by Paul Swearingen
ttyl, the first of Lauren Myracle’s young adult novels written in IMspeak, or the truncated language used by many in Internet instant messaging, has since been followed by ttfn and l8r, g8r. Each page of ttyl is set up to resemble a computer screen, complete with different typefaces and colors for each individual IM.
The novel has been soundly criticized by many, including a few teens, for its frank depiction of the near-sexual exploits of its three main female characters, for realistic language, and for manipulated situations which show teens as less than pillars of teen society. It has been pulled from school library and classroom shelves and literally out of the hands of young readers whose mothers apparently feel that their darlings are reading a how-to manual for the sexually-repressed who suddenly want to go wild … if a few reviews on amazon.com can be believed.
In other words, Myracle has pretty much followed the norm for creating a YA novel but has included some of the language that 15-year-old girls use as well as situations that a few of them fall into (Maddie drinks too much and bares her chest for a frat crowd, and the step-by-step seduction of good girl Zoe by her English teacher, who is also her church group leader, is chronicled). Various events are condensed and crammed into the book as if every day for the girls was replete with fun-and-games, wish you were here, ttyl. Etc.
The medium of IMspeak simply does not lend itself well to the development of characters and setting, but Myracle wisely refrains from using the three girls as author mouthpieces. Instead, she sprinkles in elements of the setting as needed while each character in turn keys in her part of the story, trusting the reader to add the necessary details. Each development is of course told in the past, so the reader may develop cyberseasickness as the back-and-forth story is unfolded, but it all works out. In fact, after a few sections (the book is divided into days instead of chapters), the IMspeak language becomes easy to follow, although character development is less than profound, and some passages are much longer than in real IM’s in order to provide enough plot information.
Because of the use of IMspeak, the three girls tend to become one-dimensional paper dolls, although their online conflicts and reactions are the most realistic elements of the entire novel:
mad maddie: i just think ur being hypocritical, that’s all.
SnowAngel: *steps a safe distance away* o-k-a-a-a-a-y . . .
mad maddie: just drop it. this is retarded.
mad maddie: fine
SnowAngel: i’ve g2g, anyway
mad maddie: whatevs
Zoe (zoegirl) is the good girl. Maddie (mad maddie) becomes the bad girl. Angela (SnowAngel) goes from almost delirious to depressed as her boyfriend alliances sour on her but becomes the savior of Zoe when she enlists Maddie in a joint last-moment save of Zoe from her unwanted seducer that brings all three of them back together – so that they can be bff’s again. Exhilarating stuff, but obviously Myracle is not working with character material here that could lead to rocket scientists and corporate presidents.
ttyl is not intended to be a serious contender for the next Catcher In the Rye replacement, but then Salinger didn’t write Catcher as a YA novel for young teens; he wrote it as a serious, literary, adult novel with a teenage main character. ttyl is written for early teen girls (and boys who feel the need to spy on them); while it may not accurately reflect the lives of teens (most who actually lead rather dull existences), it is intended to be a quick, entertaining, escapist, what-if read, not a training manual to teach kiddies to become immoral little deviants who shame their parents. It is titillating but no more harmful to the young reader’s morals than an extra swipe of cream frosting on a slice of cake is to the waistline of a size 2.
Paul Swearingen is the moderator of the Young Adult Fiction critique forum for Writer's Digest, and is a member of the Young Adult Book Writers of America.