It's a classic tale. Boy meets girl, goes Facebook official, then boom -- it's over.
Except that in the 21st century world of Facebook, texts and tweets, nothing's ever really over. The photos and recriminations linger on. And it's a matter of mere clicks for a heartbroken swain to find out everything worth knowing about his or her replacement.
That's what makes Rosemary Graham' "Stalker Girl" so timely. The St. Mary's College professor's young adult novel is landing on bookstore shelves at a time when headlines about teen obsession, dating abuse and cyber-stalking are splashed across newspapers and websites on a weekly basis. And as she does in her other novels -- the Berkeley-centric "Thou Shalt Not Dump the Skater Dude and Other Commandments I have Broken" and "My Not-So-Terrible Time at the Hippie Hotel" -- the creative writing teacher delves into the psyches of teens bruised by the vicissitudes of teen life, which is, frankly, messy.
While her past books have been set in Berkeley skate parks and Cape Cod beaches, Graham's latest territory is close to home for anyone who lives with teens, set in the world of Facebook, webcams and cell phones. Instead of telling the tale from the victim's perspective, the protagonist is Carly, a heartsick teen whose first casual, online peek at her ex's new sweetheart turns into a raging obsession. Carly doesn't just troll Facebook pages, she follows her ex's new beloved from lattes to yoga, through the streets of New York and into -- well, you'll have to read it to find out.
Suffice it to say, Carly gets caught in the most humiliating way possible. Readers will spend considerable time discussing whether there might be a little -- or a lot -- of Carly in every one of us. And that, says the Berkeley author, is the point.
Q: Facebook, cyber stalking -- this is a zeitgeist thing, isn't it?
A: Breaking up is harder to do in the age of the Internet. Last week, someone sent me a link to a new book from Cornell University Press, "The Breakup 2.0," about disconnecting in the world of social media. (Author Ilana Gershon, an Indiana University communications professor), says, after talking with college students, a certain amount of Facebook stalking post-breakup is considered normal. And I started thinking about the day my first boyfriend dumped me -- my first dumping experience.
Q: In the pre-Facebook days of yore?
A: Yeah, I spent the day in bed, reading an absorbing, weepy novel. I remember feeling miserable. Looking back on it, there's something more dignified about taking to your bed and wallowing in your own misery. But I know that if I had had a laptop and an Internet connection that allowed me to get information about what the guy who dumped me was doing, that's how I would have spent my day, and it would have made me even more miserable. Of course, Carly takes it much further. It's not normal to track down the girl and follow her around. But I think the impulse is normal.
A: She's experiencing a kind of drastic version of greener-grass syndrome, that visceral, automatic jealousy when you think someone has a better life than you have. If I had the cute boy, the cool mom, the cool house, life would be good.
Q: Most stalker tales are told from the perspective of the victim. Why did you decide to showcase the perpetrator?
A: I wanted to show her, not to justify or approve of her behavior, but to show she's a human being, and this is how you end up in this place. Being stalked is certainly frightening. I don't want to make light of the very serious crime -- stalking has led to some terrible things -- but I just think there's a human being behind that behavior. Obsession alters your perception of reality. You're not necessarily looking at how your behavior appears to other people.
Q: Parents tend to worry about their kids being victimized, not that they'll be the stalker. If you had been Carly's mother, would you have even had a clue before everything came crashing down?
A: There's that whole secret life of teenagers -- how do we know?
Q: You say there's a little of Carly in all of us. How so?
A: I got in a bit of trouble sitting around the St. Mary's faculty lounge when I asked, "Who here hasn't Googled an ex?" It was all guys from the math department -- and only one guy raised his hand. The emotions can set us off on patterns of behavior that make you ask later, "I did what?" That creepy stalker girl could be any of us under the right circumstances.
WHO: Rosemary Graham
WHAT: Author of "Stalker Girl" (Viking, $16.99, 298 pages)