Lauren Myracle’s ttyl

Posted: September 4, 2008 in children's and young adult literature, Lauren Myracle, Rashomon, three or four narratives

Myracle, Lauren.  ttyl. 2004.  New York:  Amulet, 2006.

This novel purports to be the transcripts of IM conversations among three 10th grade girls, who are best friends.  I say “purports” because, when I picked it up, I thought I’d be undergoing an experience in linguistic strangeness.  I’ve never IMed, and I understood it used a whole special jargon of short forms–as the title implies (I had to look it up to find out it means “talk to you later”). But it turned out i was wrong–apart from a few cute IM terms here and there, most of the conversation is written out in complete grammatical sentences–and accurately spelled, too, except for one conversation in which one of the girls has had a drink.  It’s hard to believe these three young girl could be such perfect typists–but I guess you have to sacrifice verisimilitude for comprehensibility.

The novel doesn’t really qualify as an example of alternating narratives, because the conversations it reports all involve the girls interacting, usually in pairs and sometimes in a chatroom all together.  In some ways it works more like a play than a novel, except that unlike a theatre audience, readers know only what the girls write and have little evidence in the way of facial expressions, etc., to help make their actual feelings or meanings clear.  In this way, the IMs recorded here are accurately like the real ones on the internet.  They purport to represent real people and feelings, but readers are mostly left with the need to trust; the writings may not represent real feelings, or even the actual writers that they purport to emerge from.

ttyl plays around with that ability to misrepresent and the resulting feelings of readerly insecurity now and then.  There’s one place where one of the girls pretends to be her own mother to successfully freak out the friend with whom she’s sharing confidences, and there another where one of the girls worries about how “real” they may or may not be:  “it made me start wondering how much other ppl r just images they made up, like maybe ppl lie about all kinds of things–how would we ever know?” (68).  There’s also, not often but every now and then, reminders that these IMs are not the whole story–that these girls have also interacted at school or on their phones, or even that they are simultaneously having IM conversations with other friends that readers don’t get in on.  If this is the truth about them and their relationships, it;s only the partial truth.

Nevertheless, the overall effect seems to subvert the possibilities for uncertainty.  What emerges for readers is a very clear sense of who these girls are.  They all agree on each other’s inherent characteristics, for instance, and so apparently, as they report, do their parents and other friends, so despite claims to uncertainty there is no question about who they really are and what really matters to them.  And readers who notice such things can fairly easily see that they are all in parallel situations, that each of the three have allowed another person not in the group to manipulate them and try to take advantage of them, in ways that they need to see through and move beyond–something they each eventually do with the help of the other two.   One falls for a boy who is playing around with another girl at the same time, one gets involved with a fairly young and religious-minded teacher who nevertheless seems willing to take sexual advantage of her, and the third wants to be friends with an in-group girl who happily takes advantage of her.   This is so obviously thematic and schematic that it’s hard to feel any uncertainty about it–the book is ever so clearly about characters who are readily understood, who accurately understand each other, and whom readers who are paying attention can have little doubt about understanding.

It interesting, then, that almost all books that represent writing by characters and especially written exchanges between character, play on questions of truth–but that often in writing for young people as happens here, the possibilities of uncertainty tend to be subverted by the structural and thematic conventions of the genre.  As in P.J. Peterson and Ivy Ruckman’s rob&sara.com and to some extent in Chris Anastassiades and Sam Carroll’s Noah and Saskia, which also both involve computer conversations, where people hold back information but turn out to be nice trustworthy people nevertheless, their writing accurately representing their sincerity despite the distortions of factual truth, etc. in it.  Writing is a way to lie but also, paradoxically  and more importantly, an expression of inner truth, a soul laid bare.   There’s an optimism about that that leads to the happy endings we expect of children’s and YA fiction.

The other thing that a book like this makes clear is how questions of truthfulness are key to the whole phenomenon of alternating narratives, which centrally has to do with revealing through comparison how different people represent themselves differently to themselves and each other.  All texts with alternating narratives, then, and especially those involving alternating focalizations through the points of view of different characters (as tends to happen even in IM conversations), have the potential to turn into versions of Rashomon.

Kerry Mallan discusses ttyl in “Space, Power and Knowledge: The Regulatory Fictions of Online Communities” International Research in Children’s Literature 1.1 (Jul 2008): 66-81, available online.  Mallan says, “This paper extends Donna Haraway’s notion of ‘regulatory fictions’ to young people’s participation in online communities. I argue that online communities produce a range of discursive practices and expectations, which attempt to constitute young people in particular ways. By combining recent empirical work on young people’s participation in online communities with the representation of Internet culture in young adult literature, this paper examines how participation, both real and represented, involves young people in a negotiation of complex networks of space, power, and knowledge. The discussion highlights how these networks are shaped by regulatory practices, protocols, and politics. The paper posits that new technologies are contributing to the emergence of a new social paradigm, one that offers young people possibilities for construction of multiple identities and social networks. The empirical work derives from a current Australian Research Council grant. The primary texts examined are Destroying Avalon (2006) by Kate McCaffrey and ttyl (2004) by Lauren Myracle.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s