Young-adult novel ‘Offline’ presents life lessons about technology use

  • “Offline”

  • WEISBLAT

For the Recorder
Published: 4/24/2019 3:44:41 PM

We all know them: teenagers (and, yes, some adults) who seem incapable of putting their phones down for any length of time. They study, eat, sleep, and even, alas, drive while immersed in their devices.

Brian Adams, a former professor of environmental studies at Greenfield Community College, first addressed teen readers with his young-adult novel “Kaboom!” His new young-adult book, “Offline,” deals with teen texters.

Its heroine, 17-year-old Meagan, lives in Boston and spends all her time on her cellphone. She is particularly addicted to an online-dating app called Passion, which enables her to string along myriad virtual admirers while never having to talk to a real boy.

At the novel’s outset, she is at a crisis point. She agrees to meet one of the boys she has been texting through the app — but finds herself unable to respond to his advances because she is too busy worrying about the online boys cropping up on her cellphone while she is supposed to be enjoying the real thing.

To make matters worse, she is suspended from school because a teacher thinks Meagan is looking up the answers online for a final exam.

In the ensuing confrontation, the teen refuses to give up her phone. She isn’t cheating on the exam, but she is in the middle of an important text, and a girl must have standards.

Her parents are cellphone addicts themselves, but they sense a problem. They banish Meagan to spend the summer with her gay, hippy grandfather in a cellphone-poor town in western Massachusetts.

There Meagan is expected to help weed the garden and clean the house. She can only use her cellphone on the occasional trip to town.

When she wraps her grandfather’s car around a tree (texting while driving), Gramps and his partner, Udder, insist that she start attending the meetings of a group called Netaholics Anonymous. Meagan is reluctant, but she has no choice. She starts going to the group, and her offline life becomes immensely richer.

“Offline” makes serious points about our culture, but does so with an immense amount of fun. Meagan, her grandfather and step-grandfather, and her friends are lively, witty characters who all learn a lot in the course of the book.

In fact, I have to admit that I don’t seem to have the capacity for repartee or the knowledge of history that Meagan does. She’s a character in a book, however, so it was easy for me to suspend my disbelief on this front and just enjoy the literary ride.

Both young and older people will appreciate the humor, color and life lessons of “Offline.” Meagan and her friends don’t end up giving up their cellphones entirely; they just learn to use them in moderation — and to savor the offline pleasures that come their way.

That lesson is one we could all take to heart.

Brian Adams will read from “Offline” on Wednesday, May 1, at 7 p.m. at Broadside Bookshop in Northampton; on Wednesday, May 8, at noon at Greenfield Community College’s Educational Technology Center (room S306); and on Wednesday, May 8, at 7 p.m. at Amherst Books in Amherst.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.


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