Published by Razorbill on April 19th, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Meet Scarlett Epstein, BNF (Big Name Fan) in her online community of fanfiction writers, world-class nobody at Melville High. Her best (read: only) IRL friends are Avery, a painfully shy and annoyingly attractive bookworm, and Ruth, her weed-smoking, possibly insane seventy-three-year-old neighbor.
When Scarlett’s beloved TV show is canceled and her longtime crush, Gideon, is sucked out of her orbit and into the dark and distant world of Populars, Scarlett turns to the fanfic message boards for comfort. This time, though, her subjects aren’t the swoon-worthy stars of her fave series—they’re the real-life kids from her high school. And if they ever find out what Scarlett truly thinks about them, she’ll be thrust into a situation far more dramatic than anything she’s ever seen on TV…
Hand me a premise involving fandom and fanfiction, and I’m on the hook, man. It’s no exaggeration that that premise made Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here my most anticipated debut of the year. But, sadly, this book wasn’t quite like I expected.
Scarlett is an introverted, fandom-loving loner. She doesn’t have a lot of real life friends, and instead found an online community around her favorite TV show called Lycanthrope High, which, as you may have guessed, involves werewolves. She’s one of the fandom’s biggest fanfic writers, but then… the show is canceled. Scarlett struggles with how to move on after the heartbreak of losing her show and gets entangled in some IRL drama at the same time.
Here’s the thing: Scarlett is not exactly likeable. That’s not a dealbreaker for me, because I like complex characters. But I know that it’s going to make this book quite polarizing. Scarlett is highly judgmental, slightly arrogant, and completely oblivious to these traits. She cuts herself off from the people around her – to the extent that she has two friends, one of whom is a 70-year-old neighbor. She kind of looks down her nose at everyone else, but doesn’t realize she’s doing it.
Now, that is part of her character arc, but her behavior is pretty constant throughout the book. The reason I could tolerate it is because I could relate. I wasn’t too different in high school, and the whole idea of cutting yourself off from people without realizing it, thus creating a vicious cycle in which you’re always excluded? Yeah, I got that. I still can’t say that I like Scarlett too much, but I understood why she behaved the way she did. And she did grow out of it a bit by the end.
The other thing that makes her so hard to like is that for a fanfic writer, Scarlett sure doesn’t know much about fanfics. She and her fellow fandom writers come up with the idea to write a spin-off set in the same universe after the show ends. Scarlett starts right off by writing herself into the story – even using her own name – and she has to be alerted to the fact that she is writing a Mary Sue. She takes all the drama from her real life and with thinly veiled analogies puts it all into the story. She doesn’t change the names, because that would just be… smart. And I’m sure you can’t guess where this is going.
The drama mostly revolves around a boy, Gideon. They used to be friends, and Scarlett had a crush on him for a long time, but now they haven’t spoken in a good couple of years. Scarlett seems to forget this fact because suddenly she’s 100% fixated on him, and she’s excruciatingly jealous when he gets involved with one of the popular girls and gets drawn into the popular circle. Scarlett feels betrayed in ways she has no rights to. So, no, I didn’t ship it, and I was not really cheering for them.
The girl who ends up being her rival in love is her best friend’s sister, who first seems like your typical, cliché mean girl, but then ends up being so vulnerable and hurt and weak and aww, we should all pity her. This was maybe the most exhausting part of the whole book. Scarlett puts up with Jen the whole time because of Avery. Avery sees Jen’s abuse happen but never says anything against it. Scarlett pushes back sometimes, which seems reasonable, but by the end, Jen makes her out to be the enemy because Avery and their parents like Scarlet better than her. Like… I’m rolling my eyes so hard, you could not even believe.
BUT IT’S NOT ALL BAD. I mean, this voice is polarizing, but though I winced at the things Scarlett did, I understood her more or less and was drawn in by her story. I liked the glimpses of fandom – though not so much Scarlett’s fanfic, but the community surrounding it all. Scarlett has some great online friends, and I like that the book showed they can be as comforting as IRL friends – if not more so. There’s also a great side story about her dad’s white male author privilege in the disgusting book he writes, which is kind of only halfway done so as not to detract from Scarlett’s story, but definitely had me nodding smugly. So there was enough to keep me entertained, but not enough to get me cheering.