Friday Night Book Club: Read an exclusive excerpt from Hashtag Happy, the YA debut from by Theodora Lee
More about the book!
The Friday Night Book Club: Exclusive excerpts from Pan Macmillan every weekend.
Treat yourself to a mug of hot chocolate this evening and this excerpt from Hashtag Happy – the fast-paced, honest and piercing Young Adult debut from South African YouTuber and social media marketer Theodora Lee.
About the book
@VideoPrincess: I never meant to hurt anyone, including myself, the way I did …
Diana Murray’s life is #goals. Home might not be perfect but her Instagram can be. After only a few months on YouTube her subscriber count is soaring, she’s getting recognised in public and the absolutely gorgeous @ErichLang is sliding into her DMs. How can she be anything but #happy?
But while Diana and her friends are living it up with Cape Town’s favourite social media celebs she sees something she wishes she hadn’t, something that could get you #cancelled for good. Just as Diana tries to bring the shocking event out in the open, her phone is confiscated and she is sent to rehab for social media addiction while trolls are tearing her down online.
Will Diana take responsibility for her actions and start the journey towards recovery and freedom, or will she remain a prisoner of the false security that social media brings?
Read the excerpt:
There are three things that you should know about me before you learn that I, Diana Murray, have been sent away and banned from the internet.
1. My parents are not in love, yet they refuse to get a divorce.
2. Less dramatic but equally traumatic, I’m seventeen and I’ve never had a boyfriend. All I want in life is a guy who loves me the way I will love him.
3. I never meant to hurt anyone, including myself, the way I did.
Okay, there is a fourth thing, but you can skip over it because it’s not important. I’m not happy the way it seems on the internet. I don’t know if I ever was.
I’m sitting in the reception of Ponya Wellness Centre, nestled in a steep neighbourhood just beyond Simon’s Town. It’s backdropped by mountains your average Capetonian would be tempted to climb, and also a short walk to the beach, where you might run into a romantic couple of penguins and some freedivers.
But this isn’t a holiday, or a day spa. This is rehab. I’m looking forward to whoever’s in charge realising this is a mistake, I’m not an addict. I’ve only ever tried half a cigarette and some shots.
Not gonna lie, there’s been some drama, but who gets out of high school without questioning at some point why they exist? I feel like this would be a good thing to tweet, but they’ve taken my phone away.
10 Months Before Rehab
YouTube Subscribers: 0
We were spending the Christmas holidays with my aunt and uncle in Ireland, which over winter (and most of summer) is cold AF.
Even though I was a little disappointed to leave our home in Cape Town during December, I’d hoped that Ireland would be a special family holiday. But there is nothing special about being trapped indoors for eight days due to ice on the roads.
Aunt Liz made a room for Sarah and me in their annex, which had low ceilings and peeling wallpaper, but the fairy lights strung across the dormant fireplace gave it some charm – and, let’s be honest, some nice selfie opportunities. I’d taken to sleeping twelve hours a night, rising at 1pm, which gave me just under four hours of daylight (if we can call it that) each day. I think my oversleeping had something to do with FOMO when I saw peeps back home hiking in Newlands Forest, flaunting thong bikinis and performing TikTok dances at sleepovers … scroll, scroll, scroll.
I felt underwhelmed (maybe depressed, even) about being stuck inside in the northern hemisphere. The only thing keeping me slightly upbeat were #Vlogmas videos on YouTube. But the pleasure usually faded after they finished decorating their Christmas tree and all I had left to watch were Instagram Story updates from parties I couldn’t attend.
It seemed like everyone was living their best lives, meanwhile I was slowly developing bedsores.
On Christmas Eve I looked up from my phone and wondered why nobody had called me downstairs to the kitchen. Had they assumed I was napping all day? I realised then that I needed something more to distract me from the merging gloomy days and the persistent smell of damp.
I closed my eyes for a few seconds and woke up to my sister Sarah in our room, wrapping presents.
‘I wasn’t asleep, I was just thinking with my eyes closed.’
‘Whilst snoring!’ Sarah laughed.
‘I’ve decided I’m going to start my own YouTube channel,’ I announced super casually. As if it wasn’t the best idea I’d had, like, ever.
‘Um,’ she said, picking up the penknife that she was going to wrap for Dad. ‘Hmm …’
‘Hear me out. I’ve watched like 10 000 hours of YouTube this trip. Don’t they say you need to do something for 10 000 hours to become a pro?’
‘Then you’re a pro at watching videos, not making them, Diana.’
‘Whatever.’ I rolled over. ‘They’re living the dream!’
When I sat up after a few pretend growls into my pillow, Sarah said, ‘You want to know what I think? You might be good.’
‘Hmmm, it’s hard for me to say how good, because you haven’t made a video before. But you’re theatrical!’ She said this like it was a real strength. ‘Didn’t you get 85 per cent for drama?’
Facts. I’d blown everyone away with my character, an air hostess, whose dream in life was for the plane to go down, so she could save everyone in morbid triumph.
I started mock-filming myself, making the kind of faces I’d never post. ‘Do you think there’s a chance I might get a camera for Christmas?’
‘Cameras are expensive. Why don’t you TikTok instead, using your phone?’
‘You know it’s the long and chatty vlogs for me. But I’ll also be active on TikTok; fans will have many ways to consume my content.’
‘Well then hopefully you will get a camera for Christmas.’ And that’s when the two of us broke into our favourite festive song, ‘Maybe this Christmas will mean something more!’
HOW ARE YOU FEELING?
I pick up the chewed-lid pen and start filling out the form in front of me.
I feel it’s a toss between ‘Agitated’ and ‘Euthymic’. I like the sound of Euthymic, but I don’t know what it means. I tick ‘Agitated’ and put a little star next to it. On the side of the page I draw another star and write: ‘*BTW, I’m only agitated because I wasn’t given the chance to log out of my accounts : )’
Hopefully, whoever reads this form will see the : ) and let me have my phone, just for a few minutes.
I sink further into the uncomfortable couch and allow my looping thoughts to play.
I know things got bad and I probably need to work on myself, but I made it out alive. I’m sure I can fix this on my own. And where the hell did they put my phone?
10 Months Before Rehab
YouTube Subscribers: 0
‘Merry Christmas,’ I said, sliding into the kitchen in my fluffy slippers.
Everyone stared at me – as if me being awake before lunch was a small Christmas miracle.
‘Where’s Dad?’ I asked, pouring coffee from the espresso pot. I needed something stronger than milky tea after last night’s brainstorm. I must have written a hundred You- Tube ideas in my phone’s notes before Sarah threw a pillow at me to go to bed.
‘He’s disappeared with the dogs,’ said Mom, rolling her eyes to herself, but I caught her frustration.
I grabbed a packet of chocolate buttons from the snack cupboard. Something you can’t find at Pick n Pay or even Woolworths. Europe’s cold, but it knows treats.
‘I need to start making the mince pies,’ Sarah said, eating muesli and making me feel guilty. But it’s Christmas, and I’m happy, so let me eat these buttons of joy!
Sarah eats healthily because she’s a champion swimmer; has been since her pool birth at home. Mom tried delivering me that way too, but I wasn’t quite the aquatic baby they were hoping for. I prefer beds to pools.
Because of the icy roads, Sarah hadn’t been able to get to the local pool to do any of her holiday training. You could tell she wasn’t used to having so much excess energy.
‘Come on guys, let’s bake!’ she said.
‘How about we discuss my first YouTube video?’
‘Oh yeah. Diana wants to start YouTubing.’
‘You-what-now?’ Aunt Liz said, looking up from her newspaper.
‘You know Di watches those videos on the internet of people sharing things about their lives and doing tutorials and stuff?’
Aunt Liz’s wide eyes became wider. ‘Aren’t they called “vloggers”? I read in the Irish Times that they’re modern-day celebrities. A girl from Dublin even wrote a book, some self-help thing, I thought that was rather interesting.’
‘That could be me in a couple years, Aunt Liz.’ I felt I might as well indulge.
‘Why don’t we film a “How to make mince pies on Christ- mas Eve when you don’t have all the ingredients and can’t go to the shops because of ice on the roads”?’ Sarah said, running out of breath.
‘I think that title might be a bit long,’ I said, expertly. ‘It needs to be more clickbait. Like “Mince Pie Disaster” or “Mouse Brain Found in Mince Pie”.’
‘It sounds like a nice pastime for you girls while the weather’s bad,’ said Mom. ‘But hopefully I can take you to some of the places I planned to before we go home.’
‘It’ll clear,’ said Aunt Liz extending the ‘r’, a sign that her South African accent was starting to fade slightly. I half wished I’d return home with an Irish accent. Maybe that was the missing ingredient for me in the guy department. Well, it would at the very least be a nice distraction from the pimples erupting on my chin.
With a sudden craving for savoury, I popped a piece of Irish soda bread into the toaster and asked, ‘When are we opening the presents?’
I still haven’t moved from this couch, which I’ve come to realise is the same colour as the vomit I had when I was ten and had too much Oros.
I glance at the receptionist, who has long cherry-red hair and a few semi-visible acne scars. She’s talking on the phone without her laptop on her desk. I saw her putting it away when I arrived.
‘Before we book your son in for an assessment, Mrs Bhanga, I need to ask you a few more questions if that’s okay?’ she says, and turns to me, mouthing, ‘You done?’
I nod even though I’ve left half of it blank, because I don’t understand all the questions.
‘Could you tell me his drug of choice?’ she asks Mrs Bhanga, who’s probably a mother, which makes me wonder what my mom would have said about me.
‘She’s hard-core into social media platforms, please save her!’ I almost LOL at the thought.
The receptionist puts the phone down and immediately picks it up again. I could never speak on the telephone like that. I prefer voice notes.
‘Hi, Khule, Diana’s ready for you … Yes, she’s filled out the form … No, she seems fine. A little nervous, but fine … No, she won’t need to see the clinician. I’ve spoken to her mom about it already … Yes, process addiction, she won’t need a blood test or a breathalyser, I checked with Melanie. Okay, see you now-now. Bye.’
A lady with a clipboard and a shweshwe doek walks into reception. She reminds me of a teacher I had in pre-school, Miss Mphuthi, who often found me in the sandpit when I was meant to be having nap time. I could never quite figure out where I needed to be and why it was so important. I still feel like that sometimes.
‘Thanks, Ruby, I’ll take things from here.’
She turns to me and I’m scared. ‘Hello, Diana, welcome to Ponya Wellness Centre. I’m Khule, the support counsellor.’ She holds out her hand; she’s wearing false nails with glistening pink diamantés.
‘Let me show you to your room, umntwana,’ she says, getting straight to business, as if this is all really happening. Which it isn’t. It can’t be.