We live in a social media world. For better or for worse.
There was a time, not so long ago, when sharing every aspect of your personal life would have been considered obnoxious and narcissistic. Who needs to know where I am or what I am eating every hour of the day? Those private details were shared in tabloid magazines about celebrities. Something we only wanted to know about celebrities.
I’m also sure, if you had asked most of the population back then, about whether people would one day all open themselves up to that level of public awareness, most would say no. Who could imagine a world like that?
Turns out, at least a few people did, and social media was born.
Take a society already obsessed with celebrity, and make everyone easily accessible. Or, at least give the impression of being easily accessible. How does that change us? What dangers does that bring? These are the questions raised in Follow Me Back.
“You wanted this, Eric. You worked your ass off to get discovered. Remember?” ∞ “I just didn’t totally understand what I was signing up for.”
When we dream of being famous, of living a life of luxury unimaginable to most, we tend to see the nice shiny pieces of that life. I’ve always been fascinated with how we idolize celebrities in our society. We mock them when they shut down a store to shop, yet if they try to walk down the street, we mob them. We ridicule their concerns for privacy yet pay for overpriced magazines to glimpse a picture of them on the beach, or in their backyards. We expect them to be available to us all the time. To be the people we believe they are. Nevermind who they actually are.
Before social media, celebrities had their stalkers. They’ve always had obsessed fans, willing to do anything to get a napkin dropped, a fork used, a shirt forgotten. But in a world where information about location was slower, where you relied on physical sightings or inside sources, those fans were easier to predict. Easier to contain.
Now, all it takes is a tweet. 140 characters. An Instagram photo. A Facebook update. And within seconds, everyone in the world can access that information. Anyone can access that information.
Eric Thorn is a singer. Locked in a contract he didn’t understand, and is now beginning to hate. He has mobs of fans. Fans with Twitter handles like @MrsThorn or @TessaHeartsEric. Millions of girls dying to meet him, to profess their undying love for him. It’s exhilarating. It’s smothering. It’s terrifying.
There’s another side to social media. The side that allows us to experience life in a different way. To open ourselves up to new experiences and ideas. For some people, social media helps them feel not so alone. Helps them find people who they can connect with. Helps them enrich their lives in ways they would never dreamed.
That’s where Tessa Hart finds herself after a traumatic experience leaves her unable to leave her house. She finds her release in writing fanfic about her favorite pop star Eric Thorn. Following him and his fan accounts is a release for her. Her way of finding social interaction in her isolated world. When one of her stories goes viral, her follower count rockets up. The hashtag #ericthornobsessed trending to #1.
Tessa believes she sees something in Eric Thorn that others don’t. A fear that she relates to. Her therapist thinks she’s projecting. Is it possible to see something in a photo? In an online video? Is it possible to see something no one else sees? Or do we just see what we want?
A twist of fate intertwines Eric and Tessa. I could tell you more, but where would the fun in that be? Needless to say, you will not see the plot twists and turns until they happen.
This is a book where everything you think you know is wrong.
It isn’t just the plot twists that makes this novel compelling and insightful. It’s more an analysis about the role social media plays in our lives.
We follow people without thought. Sure, there are reasons. We like their books, their music, their art. Sometimes we even know them. But I’m also sure there are people we follow, people we are friends with, that we don’t really know.
Social media is a strange intimacy. People who are active on their accounts give us glimpses into their lives. It can feel like we know them. We see them in bed, walking down the street, at their tables. We see what they watch, what they read, what they listen to, what they eat, what they wear. It can feel like we know them as well as we know our closest friends.
To us, they are someone we know. Someone we feel genuine affection for. But to them, we are a fan. One follower in a sea of thousands. Perhaps even millions.
If they comment, or retweet, or like what we post, it’s a thrill! We feel a connection, a touch of intimacy that validates how we feel about them. And if they actually follow you back? Confirmation that somehow we made it on a radar of impossibility.
These strange intimacies are the world we live in. These private worlds that feel just as big and just as real as the one we breathe in.
Follow Me Back was a seamless glimpse at how social media and celebrity worship can create an alternate reality. We see how social media can be useful, even helpful but also harmful. There is a deep look at privacy and intimacy. This commentary is subtle and done skillfully. It takes a plot twist to bring this examination to light.
This book will make you take a step back and look at your own habits. Are you part of a fandom? Could there be a dark undertone lurking beneath the love and adoration? What about social media friendships? Can you ever really know who you are talking to?
As more apps are developed and more accounts are created, this is a conversation we all need to be having. What is the line between fandom and obsession? How much of our lives should be available and accessible? How do you stay social while still protecting yourself?
It will make you think of social media and the role it can play with mental health. For some people, finding a group to talk to can be life-saving. Life-changing. But it can also be a Pandora’s box. An opening into a world of obsession and temptation that can easily spiral out of control.
Follow Me Back is a brilliant blend of Young Adult fiction wrapped in a psychological thriller. The plot is fast paced, each page demanding to be turned. I devoured this in a day. Yet you are still lulled into a state of complacency. Of believing you know what the end will be, in scope if not detail. Yet, the reality is so different, so unexpected.
If there’s one thing social media has taught us, sometimes what you see is not what you get. Sometimes a perfect and beautiful feed can hide something darker. Often, who we are is much different than who we want the world to see.
I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.