Appetizer: The first in an often censored series, ttyl chronicles the IM messages between Zoe, Angela and Maddie; three best friends who are trying to navigate the start of their sophomore year.
Zoe is dealing with an overbearing mother as she explores her spirituality by attending church with her favorite teacher, who may have his own intentions by spending time with her. Angela is navigating a romantic relationship: whether she can trust her new boyfriend, Rob, and whether he is "the one" to have sex with for the first time. Maddie, the most pessimistic of the three, battles the frustration of becoming a frenemy of a popular girl named Jana. Despite their differing concerns, problems and jealousies, the three girls struggle to maintain their friendship.
From page one, I was impressed by how well Myracle managed to present characterization and differing voices among her three protagonists. This was helped by each of them typing in different fonts and regularly taking online personality quizzes. (I remember taking similar quizzes throughout high school. Oh, memories.)
Despite these efforts, it did take me a little bit of extra time to ease into the story and to figure out characterizations. I did notice there was a little bit of resistance whenever I had to put the book down. But each time I picked it back up and eased back into the characterizations, it was hard to stop reading. (Which is about as good as it gets.)
I decided to finally read ttyl because--alas several weeks too late for banned book week--this was the week to discuss censorship in my literature course. Since the ttyl series topped the 2009 top-ten list of most challenged books, I'd been curious about its content. I wondered if it was the fact that the story was structured entirely as instant messages that contributed to the trouble.
It turns out the first book takes on a lot of topics that may be sensitive; like underaged drinking, (mild) dirty humor, female characters being critical of each other and referring to girls they don't like as "sluts," and discussion of pubic hair, lubricant, etc. At various points, characters contemplate losing their virginity, are critical of religion or consider having a romantic (and creepy!) relationship with a teacher.
I firmly believe the vast majority of fourteen or fifteen-year-olds at the very least have contemplated these issues, overheard discussions or jokes like these, if not discussed them with their friends.
The student-teacher romantic relationship did make me more than a little uncomfortable, especially since (vague spoiler!) the teens don't report the situation to the administration. But still, it was great that the book included discussion of such a concern and showed how a friend can provide support to a conflicted and confused teenager.
While I think ttyl is a great read for the novel's intended audience, Myracle is also famous for writing some younger, middle grade series. I could see a parent of a ten-year-old girl who just finished reading Myracle's Eleven and going on to read ttyl getting upset. I say "parent" intentionally. TTYL is an unlikely book to be assigned to an entire class, because of this, I think any young reader who has a choice to read it, but isn't ready for its subject matter, will self-censor and put the book down if they're uncomfortable.
Tasty Rating: !!!