Title: 4 to 16 Characters
Author: Kelly Hourihand
Available: Barnes and Noble
From the Publisher: Fifteen-year-old Jane Shilling’s best friends don’t know her real name. In fact, they don’t know anything about her at all. Jane’s life has collapsed in the last few years; following the death of her mother, her father turned to drinking, and Jane is reeling from the double blow. To escape, Jane devises a number of online personas, each with a distinct personality, life history, and set of friends. But things become trickier when she finds herself drawing close to some of her online friends, and winds up struggling with the question of how to maintain a real friendship while masquerading as a fake person. With the help of Gary, a socially awkward classmate and competitive Skeeball player who is Jane’s only offline friend, and Nora, her therapist, Jane begins to sift through her issues. The only catch is that that involves taking a long, hard look at what her life’s like when the computer is shut off, and that’s a reality she’s been fighting for years.
The story is told entirely in content that could be found on Jane's computer: e-mails, Facebook-style and Tumblr-style social media posts, fanfiction, and online chats. The choice of format is closely tied to the content - her computer is key to understanding her character and her life. Many teens (and adults!) will relate to this way of telling Jane's story.
This book is told through the online lives of Jane. Yes – lives. Jane thinks her real life is boring and too hard to deal with so she made up online personas that she thought were far more interesting, even though they each matched facets of her personality.
I was drawn to it because I have frequently remarked that I prefer my online life to my real one. Especially when I’m going through a particularly dark period the way Jane was. Dealing with an alcoholic father after the death of her mom… that’s something I simply can’t fathom.
Jane’s life was fascinating to read about. And of course, being a YA book there was a little bit of an after-school special feel to it. By the end of it, she had learned that real life is better than her virtual one – but it was the journey that was important. I found myself wanting to know more about Jane’s life, even after the book was over. How did things end up for her? Did she end up in an amazing college? Did she pursue her dreams? More importantly, did Gary ever succeed in making Skee Ball an Olympic sport?
I WANT TO KNOW.
I loved this book because it felt real to me. Jane did what I do when life is too much – she escaped into the internet. She also escaped into the world of fan-fiction, which I wasn’t expecting. But everyone has to obsess over something when they’re escaping reality. For Jane, it was a television show. For me, it’s usually books and/or online games.
Jane’s journey was one that I wish everyone who lives in the dark spaces could take. And I hope that many teens who feel as if they can’t deal with reality get to read this one and see that sometimes reality is better than the fantasy they escape to.
What Others Are Saying:
- This Girl Reads a Lot: It was humorous, heartbreaking, uplifting, and most importantly it was real. I loved it so much. It was amaze balls. I’m floored by it’s creativity, it’s realness, and it’s content.
- Two Girls, One Suitcase: 4 to 16 Characters is a brilliant novel that will speak to anyone who has ever been part of a fandom, or sought to escape their life and become someone else, even if it’s just for a day, or become obsessive about a TV show or a book or a film. So, pretty much everyone. Go grab it.
- Project Read and Review: Overall, I feel like 4 to 16 Characters had a lot of good points, but it also had some bad ones. The story had a unique concept and was also told in a pretty unique way, too. However, Jane was the most annoying thing to grace the fiction world (alright, over-exaggeration – the third most annoying, after Bella Swan and Ana Steele) and it was difficult to enjoy the story with her in it.