What’s a girl to do when her parents have split up; her mum’s trawling Tinder; and one of her best friends has decided not to invite her to the biggest party of the year, which she then has to watch unfold on everyone else’s social media? If you’re a girl called MC, you get mad as hell, that’s what you do. But what begins as one girl’s private, no-holds-barred rant soon snowballs in the most public way possible.
Sometimes I think it’s time for a social media cleanse. I mean, giving up swiping seems to be as popular as sucking down a kale and spinach smoothie these days. But then I remember I’m a journalist, blogger and podcaster. It’s basically impossible to quit when scrolling and timelines are such a huge part of my work and personal lives. Yet, as invasive as social media is for me (and pretty much everyone I know) it’s not usually explored well, or at all, in the novels I read. There’ll be a text here or there, maybe a mention of generic social media or uploading a photo, but for the most part it takes a back seat. It can save books from being dated in years to come, but there is so much fodder for amazing stories in our behaviour online. It’s something Gabrielle Williams has tapped into perfectly in her latest YA novel, My Life as a Hashtag.
I loved Williams’ last release, The Girl, The Guy, The Artist and His Ex, so naturally I was hanging out for Hashtag. It was worth the wait. I was in love, immediately. Williams is brilliant at writing characters who just hook you in, and MC had that charm in spades. Life is rough for MC; alongside the usual teenage worries about friends and boys, her dad’s moved out and her brother is being strange. She makes a big mistake, one that has consequences on so many people around her and Williams doesn’t shy away from the fact MC is in the wrong. What makes her such a brilliant character is this fallibility and flaws.
Without spoiling too many details, something MC does in what she believes is a private forum goes viral. Reading this as a 23-year-old, it was easy for me to cringe to myself, hoping MC wouldn’t press ‘post’. But we’ve all been teenagers and I certainly understood the logic in her decision, which she could never have imagined would have the outcomes it did. And it’s not just teens this happens to, Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is testament to that. Which is exactly why Hashtag is the book, the discussion, so desperately needed in YA where almost every reader in the targeted age is not only familiar with, but practically expert in, using every social media.
Hashtag never feels like a ‘lessons’ book, though. It’s such a heartfelt exploration of how these situations don’t always have one victim. It never excuses MC’s behaviour, but presents a nuanced understanding of the complexities of conflict. Everyone has a side and for the most part not everyone who does a bad thing to someone else is a bad person, there’s not necessarily a right or wrong. Usually people who lash out are hurting too, and although that’s never an excuse for bad behaviour, Hashtag is a good reminder that perception can be everything.
Although social media was a great element of Hashtag, I absolutely loved the exploration of MC’s parents post-breakup and the way a family that was one now had to heal into two. I feel like I’m always harping on about the lack of parents in YA, but I’ve seen even less exploration of divorce in the books I’ve read since starting this blog. When my parents split, I found solace in Jacqueline Wilson’s middle grade works where, unlike the other kids at school, almost everyone had divorced parents or lived in a single-parent family. Hashtag so brilliantly deals with the wave of strange emotions involved with a breakup and watching parents start separate lives.
I could probably waffle on forever about how much I loved My Life as a Hashtag. I was hooked from page one and am sill in awe of the range of emotions it explores in such a relatively small book. Heartfelt, hilarious and, above all, hopeful, My Life as a Hashtag is a must-read I guarantee you’re going to adore.
Sounds like: Bad Blood || Taylor Swift
The lovely folks at Allen & Unwin have arranged two copies for me to give away with this review. I’ll be running two giveaways, one through the form below and one exclusively for Twitter. So, you get plenty of chances to enter but a different winner will be chosen for each. As much as I’d love to send this book to everyone I know, the giveaway is open to Australian residents only.
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Thank you to Allen & Unwin for providing a copy of the book for review. My Life as a Hashtag is available now, RRP $19.99.