The Malta Independent 18 January 2022, Tuesday

Lon Kirkop’s winning entry for the Teenage Literature writing competition

Tuesday, 7 December 2021, 10:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

Meet Jules, the online popular vlogger - thousands of teens follow her vlogs on her life and aspire to her levels of seemingly unattainable perfection. On the other side of the screen, meet Manda, who has nothing of what Jules has. And Manda obsesses so much about wanting to be like Jules, that it hurts.

"Yes, in Jules I love all that I see missing in me. I love everything about Jules because I have nothing. But no, wait, I don't want to be like Jules. I want to be Jules. I want people to quit calling me Manda and start calling me Julia, Jules or any of a hundred thousand other names."

This obsession that consumes itself and its protagonist across both sides of the digital divide that is the screen, is the foundation of Lon Kirkop's new novel Mitt Elf Isem Ieħor: Happy Vegan Girl Jules.

Way back in 2013, the National Book Council, together with Aġenzija Żgħażagħ, sought to begin addressing the relative lack of young adult fiction in Maltese by setting up a competition, the annual Teenage Literature Writing Competition. And year after year the competition winners help populate young adult bookshelves. This year's winner was in fact Mitt Elf Isem Ieħor penned by emergent author Lon Kirkop.

Kirkop, a painter and playwright, set out to write his first ever novel for this competition. And the results were so fascinating to readers that the novel, published only recently during the Malta Book Festival, turned out to be the surprise hit of the festival.

Critics and readers have pointed to the novel's fresh voice, pace and provocative content as reasons for its success. The novel delves into the obsession with digital lives that so many of us are consumed by, via the addiction that is social media. The characters in Mitt Elf Isem Ieħor are, just like the rest of us, living a reality where we are exposed 24/7 to online "perfection" by people who are careful to curate an idealised version of themselves.

The novel is written with teenagers in mind. It speaks to their fears and anxieties, their aspirations and their daily lives. It speaks, especially, their language: that of WhatsApp group chats and texts, Instagram, TikTok and vlogs.

The book's visual presentation; the result of an inspired collaboration between the author himself and Merlin book design artist Pierre Portelli, further lifts the novel's young adult credentials, a hybrid between a book and a social media feed.

Mitt Elf Isem Ieħor published by Merlin Publishers, is available from all bookshops, as well as online from the publishers' website merlinpublishers.com 


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