I wasn't sure what to expect from Dear Dylan, a novel written entirely in emails. It's not a format I've ever encountered before, and though I was instantly intrigued I couldn't help wondering if it was just a gimmick. As it turned out, I don't think Dear Dylan could've been written any other way.
We first hear from main character Georgie Harris when she decides to contact her favourite actor, Dylan Curtland - the star of her favourite soap opera. In these early emails, Georgie seems to be your average celebrity-crushing teen. She gushes, she tells Dylan she loves him, and it's clear how much she wants to believe that the standard replies she gets back from him are written just to her. Her friend Jessica thinks she should just get over it. But then, something amazing happens. Georgie gets the email that changes everything. A real, personal, just-for-Georgie email from someone who might just turn out to be the friend she's always needed.
It doesn't take long for this new 'e-mate' to realise that Georgie is going through a difficult time at home. Her stepdad is a bully, and she misses her own dad. Even her summer holiday is beginning to look like it's going to be a total washout, as she's forced to look after her half-sister every day instead of going to the drama workshop all her friends will be at. But with the encouragement of her new online friend, Georgie finds a way to slowly start turning things around. Through emails, we follow the ups and downs of Georgie's summer as a life-changing friendship grows on the pages before us.
Much of what Georgie goes through will be familiar territory for most readers, as she negotiates her way through cringe-inducing beauty disasters, toxic friendships and the uncertainty of her first romance. Where Georgie's story differs is in the influence that her new online friend has on the way she deals with her troubles. Because this is where the format really counts: not only is the story is told in emails, but the emails are the story. And when the story begins to take a darker turn, Georgie's e-mate shows us what real friendship is all about.
Georgie herself is a sparky, easy-to-relate to character whose emails are written with a quirky and endearing individuality. She's the kind of protagonist who'll have you cheering her on through the good times and commiserating through the bad times. Fans of romantic storylines will especially appreciate the sweet and tender (and yes, swoonworthy!) story of Georgie's first real love. At the same time, there is major substance here. As Georgie confides more and more in her online friend we begin to see that her stepdad's bad moods might just be far more sinister than we first realised - and it's down to Georgie's e-mate to help her.
Although Dear Dylan covers some serious themes, it does so with a lightness of touch that keeps the reader captivated from start to finish. There's also a real specialness in the way that the email format brings so much to the story. It's a book that reminds us of the power of true friendship. It's intimate and honest, and written with a freshness that I believe will enchant teen and adult readers alike. I loved it.