We live in a world of technology. We are constantly creating data whether we realize it or not. We are creating our own personal brands every time we post to Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, you name it. All of this social media has infiltrated our lives, especially our teens. What many don’t realize is that we, as users, are actually the product making media companies money. We are the thing being sold. Don’t believe me? Watch the Social Network. We are all being used so much that it has become harder to know who we can trust and that 15 minutes of fame is so elusive that we are not always careful when it is right before us. These are just some of the themes that Yvonne Woon tackles in the new , If You, Then Me.
At its core, this book is about Xia, a girl who doesn’t feel like she belongs, is very lonely, and is looking for her tribe. She also happens to be a brilliant coder and has created an amazing artificial intelligence (AI) app call Wiser. Wiser is a program that uses a person’s personal data so that when asked a question, it responds with what your own older, wiser self might say. Kind of like Siri on a whole new personal level. Xia’s dream has been to get into a program called The Foundry, an app incubator located in Silicon Valley, and Wiser is her key in.
Xia is lonely. She created Wiser to have someone to talk to. She has her best friend, Gina, and an online friend whom she only knows as ObjectPermanence and who she has a giant crush on. So flying to California to live among 19 other tech prodigies is both exciting and frightening. Xia is somewhat naïve, especially in comparison to some of her classmates that have grown up in the shadows of Silicon Valley. But the Foundry is a place where she also meets people who get her and where she feels like she fits in more.
But success at The Foundry isn’t as straightforward as do good work and you will succeed. It is a competition through and through. The point of the program is to teach these kids how to get their startups off the ground and funded so, in addition to grades, they all have a personal stock value, have meetings with real investors to practice their pitches, and always trying to one up someone else. Xia struggles until she meets Mitzy Erst, a tech genius in her own right and someone Xia has admired since she was 10. Mitzy takes Xia under her wing and after being tagged with Mitzy on the equivalent of Instagram, her stock is suddenly soaring. Pretty soon she stops going to class and treating her friends differently. She also comes face to face with the snarky comments that people leave on social media when they are “anonymous.” The question for Xia is whether she is becoming her best self or heading straight toward self-destruct?
At the same time, Xia is trying to figure out the dating scene. She has had a long-time crush on ObjectPermanence and thinks that he is also a student at the Foundry. But she has also starting building a connection with Mast, one of her classmates. The whirlwind that is Mitzy impacts Xia’s behavior in a number of ways, especially hurting the relationships she has started building at the Foundry.
I found this book to be highly thought provoking, at times cringe-worthy, and pretty on target for the smart kid who doesn’t necessarily have the best street smarts. Xia wants to be seen and as the book progresses, she realizes that seeing her and seeing the image or persona she has created are two very different things. She has to make decisions about monetizing an app that was created to be an honest future representation of you as an individual. She learns that people are not always what they appear to be on the outside and that a great many people in the world will try to use you. If You, Then Me is a very unique coming of age story that is appropriate for our social media crazed society where many look at money as the ultimate success. This is a story that will likely resonate with a number of readers as it delves into the world of personal image and social media much more than other books have. Great for the 13+ crowd.