Even when I was a young adult, I don’t think I read much too many YA books. I do think that YA is a bit of a misnomer – Young Adult usually means teens but, as I remember way back when, I probably didn’t appreciate the label of teenager either. Somehow I managed to skip from Nancy Drew to Stephen King with a few Judy Blume’s and SE Hinton’s in between. I’m not even sure that there really was a genre for YA, not with the variety of selection that is available today. Over the last year or two, I’ve picked up a few books that have been classified as YA and been very pleasantly surprised at how good they are – better than quite a few “adult” books I’ve read in the same period. With the rise of YA books in just about every genre there’s been an increase in LBGT novels which is nice to see. I remember the first few lesbian fiction books I read when I was in my 20’s and how much of an impact they made on me to read about characters who were lesbians – to have access to that sort of book as a YA would have been a wonderful thing and maybe made some of my own uncertainty and confusion at that time a bit easier to understand.
email@example.com is a short and rather sweet book about 18 year old Imogen Summers. She lives at home with her parents, is loaded down with college assignments and is dating the most popular guy at school; but there’s something missing. Drawn to a message board for a popular TV show that features two lesbian characters, she meets a number of other fans. As she develops these online friendships, they move from the public message board to IM, emails, and texts. She connects immediately with one girl, Fickle, and as their conversations deepen, Immy starts to question whether Fickle is flirting with her and the realization that the rapidly growing attraction seems to be mutual. And then comes the dilemma of what does it mean and what is she going to do about it.
Everything on the internet moves at the speed of light – including friendships. But at the same time, the people you are talking with and feel so connected with are also complete strangers and you really have no idea who they really are. Payne captures that instant connection that can happen when you meet someone online that has similar interests and the almost obsessive need to check email or the message board for fear of missing something. I had to laugh when she seemed a miffed that she wouldn’t have time to check the message board because her boyfriend wanted to go straight to the club (where he’s the lead singer in an Emo band) from college. Immy’s growing addiction to the site and the friends she makes there is almost like a way of avoiding the things she doesn’t want to deal with in real life, especially her ambivalent feelings around her boyfriend. As she discovers that some of the women she is talking with online are lesbians, it starts to bring her own confusion and uncertainty to the forefront. In the comfort zone of these friendships, Immy starts question why she doesn’t feel the way that her real life friends assume she does about her boyfriend and why Fickle’s attention is so flattering.
Immy’s struggles with the realization that she’s attracted to a woman are resolved relatively quickly and I think she handles it rather well. The support of her friends online and the knowledge that she’s not the only one out there is probably what makes the difference. There are still a few setbacks, one of her online friends surprises her with her reaction to Immy’s confession that she is falling for Fickle and I think that gives the situation a nice dose of realism. Twiggy comes around but I’m not sure if she really does understand or is completely comfortable with the idea. There’s also a bit of a predictable twist, where all is not as it appears – but it worked well and gave Immy a bit more of an impetus to grow a bit more into herself and start a more active part figuring out not only what she wants but what she needs.
Immy falls pretty fast and very hard for Fickle – and with the constant barrage of attention and declarations from Fickle, it’s not hard to see why. This is Immy’s first real romance and she’s obviously head over heels – that it develops over the internet accelerates everything and the reader gets to ride the rollercoaster with Immy through the highs and lows of it all. What is it about first love that is so damned all-consuming?
Through the first person POV narration, Payne creates a likable and engaging character with an interesting voice. Between Immy’s inner dialogue and the MSN/texts, it’s a pretty fast paced read and I found it hard to put down because I wanted to see what would happen next.
One of my quibbles with the book is the almost complete focus on Immy and her life and friends online. We get glimpses of her family and friends but they are very minor characters that we don’t see her have very much interaction with and have very little understanding of her relationship with them. I think we would have had a better, fuller picture of Immy if there had been more around her family and friends. My other quibble is Immy herself seems to be a rather young 18 – she lives a rather sheltered life and that may be part of the reason, but some of her internal dialogue, actions and reactions felt a bit younger than 18.
Overall reaction: A good book that captures the highs and lows of coming out to oneself and falling head over heels for the first time.