Before Zoom, WhatsApp and Facebook, at the very dawn of the World Wide Web was a new way of meeting and communicating with total strangers across the planet, all from your own home — online message boards. As any of us who are old enough to remember the heyday of Usenet can attest, this ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime was an incredible revelation. Especially for those of us who were shy in face-to-face situations, or simply couldn’t find anyone else in our town who shared the same interests.

Such was the case for 12-year-old Brandy Harris at the opening of Brandyn Cross’s first installment of The Legacy Series (Brandywhine Publishing), based on a true story. The year is 1992, and Brandy has found a way to connect with like-minded teens via an online message board about a topic he’s developed a keen interest in — The Church of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS). Like all online forums, it is a place for discussion of not only the subject at hand, but a wide range of other topics, from music to dating to simply joking around and getting to know each other.

But Brandy isn’t quite the average kid. He has leukemia, and from page one we know that not only does he have two years left to live, but that he is a victim of abuse. Cut off from the ability to engage with his peers in real life by strict parents who disapprove of his interest in the LDS, Brandy turns to this virtual world for friendship and acceptance, discussion and debate in a completely adult-free zone. It is a place where teens feel free to express themselves, explore who they are and who they want to be, make each other laugh and tell each other their deepest secrets.

A UNIQUE FORMAT

The book is laid out as a series of forum messages — typos, text-speak, emoticons and ASCII art all included. Reading The Legacy Series is partly like eavesdropping into unguarded, organic discussions between teens, and partly like observing an anthropological study of youth online culture, with its raw, verbatim documentation and lack of literary pretensions.

We get to know many of the teens in tandem with Brandy over the course of the book. Like all teens, there are flights of utter childishness punctuated by sudden bursts of adult insight, sometimes in the same breath.

For example, Brandy talks about the LDS faith with emotional conviction and intellectual rigor on the one hand, and on the other, resorts to name-calling those who disagree with him, or as he puts it, “I like to kick stupid peoples butts at debateing stuff when they say stupid moronic things.” At another point, he wistfully talks about his desire to someday be an LDS missionary: “Hopefuly before I go contact will be established with life on some distent planet and I can open a mission there.” Such is the mind of the adolescent.

LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR AN EPIC SERIES

But underneath the frivolous banter and honing of self-identity is a very lonely boy with a very serious illness and some very dark secrets he has only just begun to hint at. In a recent interview with the BooksThatMakeYou blog, Cross talks about the story arc of the series, some 20-plus books in all, which delve deeper into not only Brandy’s life of emotional, physical and sexual abuse but those of his online friends, and the power of those friendships to help deal with the traumatic fallout of such abuse.

In addition to volume one, a second book in the series has recently been released. It appears there is much more to the story yet to come, one that unfolds and develops over time, as it were, “out of the mouths of babes.”

Brandyn Cross is a high-functioning autistic, multi-faceted artist whose life almost ended in a serious industrial accident. After five years of rehab and recovery, he was essentially left a wheelchair-bound amputee, with severe systemic nerve, tissue and blood damage. Brandyn believed that even if his physical potential was diminished, his creative potential had yet to be unleashed. Determined to show the world that even severe obstacles can be overcome, Brandyn began developing, studying and honing his craft, until, ultimately, he turned his ambition into a professional reality. Today, he is an author, musician, actor and filmmaker for numerous projects.