Words | Anna Snoekstra
‘I feel like you’re sort of my diary, you know? But you write back.’
This is a real line from an email I wrote to my friend when I was thirteen.
She was the daughter of a diplomat and we met not long before her family was due for re-assignment in Indonesia. I was fascinated by her. She’d lived all over the world and her mother cooked us elaborate Pakistani food at sleep overs. She also shared my interest in the macabre.
She’d found Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood on her parent’s bookshelf. Every night, she’d read a chapter. The next morning at school she’d recount it for me from memory behind the gym. We both got nightmares.
After she left Australia, we kept in touch online. Each week I would send her an elongated email, often up to ten pages in length. Like a lot of teenagers, I was awkward about expressing my feelings. But somehow, with her it was different. I revealed every emotion, every maudlin detail of my quiet adolescence in suburban Canberra. She told me about Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan and later Sweden. I felt so connected to her, despite the fact I never saw her face-to-face or heard her voice.
Those were the days of one shared family computer with dial-up internet. Today, young people can interact in so many different ways via the devices they carry around in their pockets. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, snapchat, YouTube, games, forums, fan fiction… the list goes on.
When I spend time with teenagers, I observe that they seem to exist in dual worlds. As an adult, this can be difficult to understand. On top of the safety concerns, teens seem to be getting less and less connected. Online profiles, filled with filters and hashtags and perfect angles all stink of superficiality.
However, one thing the Internet has shown us is that appearances can be deceiving. A recent study on teenagers by Murdoch University has revealed surprising results. The paper concluded that communication online buffers against emotional distress for teens on the same level as real world communication.
This is certainly true for the characters in Mercy Point, my first Young Adult book. They are all disconnected from their friends and family and can’t communicate about the things that really matter. On top of this, the teenagers have a secret: each of them is sure they are adopted. This secret brings them together. They meet on an online forum for adoption in their area and their anonymous conversations quickly become more real than any they are having in real life.
For teens feeling different or alone, the internet is a door to so many communities. There are celebratory queer spaces, multitudes of accounts dedicated to body positivity, supportive groups that share stories of mental illness.
Although this is my third novel, I am experiencing the same jubilation and nerves I experienced with my debut. The Young Adult sphere is entirely different to crime fiction and I feel like an outsider. Here again, I’ve found my solace online, discovering a Young Adult community and immediately feeling accepted.
The wonderful #LoveOzYa brings together authors and readers. I could go on Bookstagram and feel like I was in a constant book club no matter what I was reading. There are wonderful local Booktubers and bloggers who celebrate and discuss every new Australian Young Adult release. Even better, this community is brought together in real life for almost weekly book launches and events. Like a lot of others, it isn’t either/or for this community. It transcends both online and real life spaces, they exist in tandem.
Plus, unlike adult book launches, there is usually cake. Book-themed cake. My inner awkward teenage nerdy sugar addict couldn’t be happier.
Anna Snoekstra lives in Melbourne, Australia. She recently wrote about writing for The Guardian. She studied creative writing and cinema at Melbourne University, followed by screenwriting at RMIT University. She has made short films and music videos that have been screened internationally and worked as an arts reviewer for the Melbourne Review.