This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 18.3.
Concerned that my opinion of Adrian Chamberlain’s Facespace was biased by my age and gender, I gave the novel to my daughter’s grade 8 classmate—let’s call him Lucas—to read. Lucas, a remarkably articulate critical thinker for a twelve year old, not only validated my position, but shared his own opinions regarding the actions of the novel’s protagonist, Danny.
I begin by not liking stories that are based on dishonesty, unless they are handled extremely well and to good purpose. While Chamberlain’s intent is obviously not only valid but important—to teach readers the necessity for honesty and integrity in their social media interactions—I felt that the delivery was lacking to such an extent that young readers would not engage with the message. To begin with, there is no legal reason, as far as I know, for not calling “FaceSpace” either MySpace or Facebook, which it is obviously based on. Young readers like veracity in their novels; they like to see what they know to be real, not a fictional representation of something as central to their lives as social media sites, when there is no reason to avoid that verisimilitude. And—as Lucas points out—such social media sites, regardless of what one titles them—are international. Danny’s British “friend” James would have had numerous British FaceSpace friends, had he been real, and no high school student would miss that oversight… but that is getting into the plot, which I have not explained.
The premise is that young Danny is unpopular, and longs—as many young teens do—to belong. He invents a British “friend” on his social media site, one who is as popular as he wants to be himself. His experiment is a success, until he is discovered. There is a subplot in which Danny takes images of his popular best friend and alters them in Photoshop into unattractive and even grotesque images, reposting them anonymously. His friend is extremely upset, but Danny never owns up to his authorship of the images, which is a problem, as this situation is never resolved. The most significant obstacle to enjoyment of this novel—for me—lay in the character of Danny, who is implausibly naïve and more, well, stupid, than readers would believe themselves or any of their friends to be. Lucas agreed, noting that Danny “seemed to jump into trouble almost willingly,” and that his actions “seemed like a sequence of convenient and unconnected events rather than a narrative flow” (his words: honestly). Even as part of the Orca Current series, which is designed to have an easier reading level, I feel that FaceSpace fails to engage: it feels far too much like a character like Danny would not exist, and if he did, we would have little sympathy for him.