When things in the world get hard, I tend to turn toward familiar sources of comfort. One thing that has always felt like home for me has been the internet, which might explain why social media is at the heart of my YA sophomore novel No Filter and Other Lies.
I spent my early days on America Online (AOL) in chat rooms fangirling over the Backstreet Boys and forged lifelong friendships while exchanging fanfic stories. I shared my deepest secrets and found community within the fat fashion realm on Livejournal. I learned to code on MySpace. I became an outspoken, intersectional feminist and mastered the art of GIFs on Tumblr. So, is it any wonder that during this ongoing pandemic I’ve leaned into TikTok?
I first downloaded the app during my maternity leave in 2019, but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that I found myself hooked. I expected to watch silly videos, as my heart still yearned for Vine (RIP), but what I found was something so much more: community.
The hyperspecific algorithm (which I admit can be scarily accurate sometimes) helped usher me toward people like me—people I struggled to connect with otherwise as a new parent working full-time amid a global pandemic. I was served videos that made me laugh, videos that made me cry, videos that made me think, videos that celebrated fat bodies, videos that gave me new book recommendations, and videos that shed light on parts of myself I didn’t know existed. It was through TikTok that I discovered so much about myself, including that I’m bisexual.
If it sounds weird for a thirty-something mom to discover her sexuality while on a video app mostly intended for teens, that’s probably because it is. But it also illustrates the immense power social media possesses.
Readers get to see exactly its impact in Kat Sanchez’s story—how, in the blink of an eye, she goes from a regular user to someone nearly swept away in its current. It’s through social media and the warm blanket of anonymity it provides that Kat starts to figure out who she is and what she wants. There, she feels like she can really be herself. And it’s there that she, like me, discovers her own sexuality, a plot I’d written into the book long before I had even managed to utter the words “I’m bisexual” to myself or to my husband.
Though Kat makes a few serious missteps on social media, I also think she comes out on the other side of it having learned so much about herself, her hopes, her dreams, and her place in the world. I hope readers see it as equal parts cautionary tale and call for empathy.
When I think of NO FILTER AND OTHER LIES, I think of how hard it is to be vulnerable, how difficult it sometimes feels to be authentically yourself, how you can love others ferociously but still have a tough time applying that inward. I think of complicated families, friends that become family, and love that’s all-consuming. I think of reconciling the life we dreamt of with the life we have. I think of the sweet and gentle way animals bring out the best in us (especially if they’re adorable, three-legged dogs!). I think of how even the best of us make mistakes. And I think if readers can root for Kat, then they can also extend that same empathy and compassion to themselves.
As we enter year three of the pandemic, I find myself endlessly grateful for all of the kindness and warmth I’ve been lucky enough to feel from booksellers, educators, librarians, and the entire book community. Thank you, each of you, all of you, for first embracing Charlie Vega’s story and now making room on the shelves for Kat Sanchez, and for ultimately saying that this fat, brown author belongs. So many of us need the reminder that we are enough, and it’s my hope that, with your help, we can keep connecting readers with books that help them see they’re perfect just as they are—no filter needed.
All my gratitude,