Title: Technically, You Started It
Author: Lana Wood Johnson
Summary: When a guy named Martin Nathaniel Munroe II texts you, it should be obvious who you’re talking to. Except there’s two of them (it’s a long story), and Haley thinks she’s talking to the one she doesn’t hate. A question about a class project rapidly evolves into an all-consuming conversation. Haley finds that Martin is actually willing to listen to her weird facts and unusual obsessions, and Martin feels like Haley is the first person to really see who he is. Haley and Martin might be too awkward to hang out in real life, but over text, they’re becoming addicted to each other. There’s just one problem: Haley doesn’t know who Martin is. And Martin doesn’t know that Haley doesn’t know. But they better figure it out fast before their meet-cute becomes an epic meet-disaster…
I had high hopes for Technically, You Started It: an adorable pseudo meet-cute with mistaken identity? In a young adult novel told exclusively through text messages? Yes, please! I feel very, very lucky to have (literally) stumbled onto an arc, because it was the perfect backdrop to my train ride down to New York City. (The return-trip book, not so much.) It was so easy to fall into Haley and Martin’s developing relationship: to laugh at their jokes, smile at their obliviousness, cheer when they both finally admitted that what they were doing actually meant something—that the book fulfilled all of my expectations.
I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy reading a book of nothing but texts, if it would feel like something was missing, but the only real difference is how quickly I got through the book. Lana Wood Johnson does such a good job at developing the world in which Haley and Martin exist that I quickly grew accustomed to the format. I felt like I knew the two of them—their friends, their families, how they were spending their summers—that it was if I’d grabbed one of their phones and scrolled through their entire text history and not that Johnson had made the whole thing up.
While Martin initially texts Haley to ask a question about school, and Haley accidentally restarts their conversation a few days later, their infrequent and short threads quickly morph into daily, in-depth conversations. It’s so easy (for so many reasons) to be more open online, and Johnson takes advantage of this, allowing both Haley and Martin to connect without having to deal with the anxiety of an in-person meeting. (And even when Haley brings up that Martin is only continuing their correspondence because it’s just texting, he’s quick to shoot her down—because that isn’t the only reason, at least not for Martin, and at least not at that point in the story.)
The majority of the plot revolves around Haley thinking that she’s texting one Martin (“the good one”) while she’s really texting the other one (“the burrito clown”), and the fun is in how Haley’s torn between the connection she feels with Text Martin and the growing attraction she has to IRL Martin—who she doesn’t know are the same person. Martin figures this out pretty quickly, but Haley remains in the dark for the bulk of the novel, and it’s this in-between space where Johnson lets us live. Haley’s reluctance to ever meet Martin irl heightens the dramatic tension, but it also makes sense for her, and the text format never feels like a crutch Johnson uses just to keep her protagonists apart.
I’m sure that readers will judge Technically, You Started It by its cover, or its summary, or even its format, but they shouldn’t. The book is such a refreshing (and modern) look into how humans connect with one another, how much easier it is to talk to a screen but how gratifying it becomes when you let yourself truly be vulnerable with another person. This book made my soul happy, and it’s something I know I’ll return to when I need a pick-me-up.