Nineteen years ago, I was an awkward pre-teen with a dial-up internet connection and a passionate love of L.J. Smith books. (L.J. Smith, for those of you not in the know, is the author of 90s YA classics like The Vampire Diaries, The Secret Circle, and The Forbidden Game.)
I wasn’t just a book nerd–I was learning to code BASIC at this point, and quickly figured out HTML. I also learned about listservs, and when I searched for L.J. Smith on the newly-available internet, I found a group of similarly-aged teens and young adults who shared my love.
For someone who grew up in the Bible Belt of California, who was frequently judged for reading things with vampires, witches, and Norse demons…well, the anonymity of the internet was heaven. For years, I didn’t tell anyone how old I was, because I was so happy to be taken moderately seriously. I joined other online book clubs; we started our own (my pre-teen/teenage hubris was incredible). And the first people to respond are now my three oldest friends.
We bonded because we loved stories about young women finding their own strength and power; we stayed friends because we had similar senses of humor and outlooks on life. The oldest of us is turning 40 this year; I’m the youngest, at 31 (for one more day).
We have been friends through first loves, first breakups, graduations (high school, college, even law school for two of us), the deaths of parents, marriages, and the every day minutiae that populates nearly twenty years of shared history. Our boyfriends have insisted that we couldn’t be “real” friends, or that we must all actually be men. (Did you know my name is actually Harold? I didn’t, either!) We remember details about each other that the others have forgotten. We have enough saved chat logs with inappropriate internet denizens to wallpaper the Louvre. (a/s/l?)
They’re the reason I could never announce that I was “one of the guys,” and that “girls only bring drama.” I damn well knew better, even if I wanted to be Gillian Flynn’s “cool girl.”
And through it all, L.J. Smith’s books are the thread that binds us together. All any one of us has to do is say, “Remember when Julian went to the masquerade prom,” or “IEIEIE, THAT MOMENT WHEN ADAM MAKES THE BONFIRE FLAMES SURGE,” or even, “
Something awful is going to happen today” (on September 4th, naturally), and a chorus of “OMG YES” can practically be heard through the wires and waves. We text, we chat, we Facebook/tweet/instagram, we have a private message board.
I find it so incredible that a single author can make this all possible, even indirectly. It is total chance that we met, and yet it feels completely inevitable. There have been times in my life that I felt like I had no one who understood–and then I’d correct myself, because that’s not true, not at all. And it’s all because we loved the way L.J. Smith has with words; the way we could identify with her heroines and swoon over her love interests.
To this day, I re-read The Secret Circle once a year.
Last week, I flew out to Charleston for YALLFest (appropriately, a YA literature convention) and finally met the only one of our group I hadn’t yet met in person. As we were chatting at book club–the Charleston Forever Young Adult branch, formed by a dear San Francisco FYA book club friend, similarly obsessed with L.J. Smith, who moved away last year–a newcomer to the book club heard that Kristy and I had been friends on the internet for 19 years, but had only met in person the day prior. “I thought you two were old friends!” she exclaimed.
“We are,” we both said at the same time, and laughed.
And we are all the luckier for it.