More than We Can Tell reviewed by Tara

Sixteen year old Emma designed OtherLANDS as part of a project for extra credit in Computer Science. She uploaded the link on the school’s forum in the hope of getting a few players to test it. It exceeded her expectations and she now has regular players, a small fan base and an online community. It’s going well until one of the players begins trolling her. Although his offensive messages make her feel uncomfortable, Emma doesn’t feel that she has the right to react as she knows that women are often targeted in the male dominated industry of coding/gaming. She blocks and bans him, but he keeps creating new accounts and each new message is worse.

Rev was seven when he was removed from his abusive father. Fortunately, he was fostered in a safe home with Kristen and Geoff, who went on to adopt him. Rev secretly fears that he has inherited his birth-father’s violent nature that will be triggered by some future event. Three days after his eighteenth birthday he receives a note in the mailbox from his estranged father. It stirs up memories and emotions. He doesn’t know how to react. He tries to sort it out himself, but his initial attempt only serves to encourage his father, who responds with email after menacing email.

Both Emma and Rev feel isolated by their unseen attackers. As they are trying to figure out how to handle their respective situations, they happen to meet. Sometimes it is easier to talk to a stranger than someone you know, and they open up to each other. Despite knowing they should talk to their parents about the offensive online communications and not knowing what dangers they are walking into, they both try to handle their own situation alone.

More Than We Can Tell raises some important issues around online safety and the importance of talking about incidents of bullying and harassment, despite how difficult it may be to admit what is happening. It considers the issue of respect for women in male dominated industries, and the ways women respond to harassment. Another theme is child abuse and the experiences of children who have been fostered. There is also an interesting thread about the difference between feeling angry with thoughts of violence and acting on those thoughts in displays of rage and violence.

I really enjoyed Brigid Kemmerer’s Letters to the Lost and was eager to read another of her novels. I was excited to recognise Rev, one of the supporting characters in Letters to the Lost, and to read his story. Once again, the characters were raw and realistic and facing big issues. The use of first person narrative and alternating viewpoint, between Emma and Rev, creates a sense of intimacy and enables different perspectives of the issues to be explored. The plot is well-paced with lots of tension and surprises. It was an engaging and enjoyable book.

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