Friday, July 15, 2016

Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here

Reading Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here by Anna Breslau was an interesting experience for me. I started thinking I didn't really like it yet felt oddly compelled to keep reading. I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.

Scarlett is a teen obsessed with a recently cancelled TV show about teen werewolves at a boarding school. She is a Big Name Fan in the online fandom for the show, writing well loved popular fanfic and live tweeting every episode when it aired. Now that the show is no more, she feels desolate and like things are slipping away from her. It doesn't help that she pretty much hates her real life where her only two real friends are Avery (a math geek girl form her school) and Ruth (an elderly weed smoking neighbor who likes to garden). When Scarlett attempts to embrace life by talking to the boy she's always liked and is foiled by Avery's popular sister Ashley, Scarlett takes her frustrations to the only place that has ever helped. Scarlett begins writing a new story with Original Characters that takes place in the Universe of her beloved show. All the OCs share a resemblance (and names) with the actual people Scarlett goes to school with. Scarlett's story and complicated events of real life. force her to confront some difficult truths about life and herself.

As I began to read, I found myself frustrated by the way the story seemed to jump from relationship to relationship in Scarlett's life giving us a lot of backstory with some character development, but not really shining much light on who Scarlett was. Or so I thought. As I continued reading, I realized I had learned a lot about Scarlett. I do still think there is a pacing problem in the first fourth of the book that may turn some readers off, but there is also good stuff in there about who Scarlett is as a person and it's shown through her interactions with others. Scarlett is one of those characters who is going to get slammed with the label "unlikeable" and possibly "stupid". After all, she does post a story online tangentially about her life and doesn't' change any of the names. Who does that, right?  I can totally see teenage girls who think their online existence is divorced form their real life entirely doing EXACTLY that. And Scarlett is very much a teen, which is part of why I like her so much. She is judgmental and nerdy stuck-up, sometimes in immature ways. She is egocentric and sees everyone in relation to her rather than as individuals themselves. The beautiful thing about her story is that she starts to see this and it causes her to grow as a person. Watching these relationships develop,  made this book shine for me. Scarlett tries to make things better where she can and not everything is fixed and perfect with every other character in the end. I loved the relationship between Scarlett and her mom and how much Scarlett's view of her mother changes as she starts to see her as a person with dreams and not just as "Scarlett's mom". My favorite relationship in the book is Scarlett's friendship with the elderly Ruth. Ruth seems to know exactly what Scarlett needs when she needs it. Scarlett, like most girls her age would be, is selfishly oblivious. But what Breslaw does with their relationship works really well with Scarlett's journey. It is a tad predictable, but what Scarlett takes away is worth that predictability. Scarlett's relationship with her best friend Avery is not developed as well as I would like, but it was endearing. I also liked how things between Scarlett and Ashley went down. It was so realistic.

The one aspect of the book that really did not work for me was the romance. I get what Scarlett saw in Gideon and I LOVED that he wasn't one of those YA knights-in-shining-armor. He is also a confused teen. Immature in exactly the way boys his age are because they are still growing up. I just wasn't invested in their relationship. I was far more interested in Scarlett's friendships and her relationships with her parents.

The plot follows Scarlett as she navigates all of these relationships and her feelings of losing her fandom through her writing. Her fanfic is included in the book. It doesn't constitute much of it, but it is there, and does show Scarlett's growth. I love how Breslaw also included the commentary from other fans and Scarlett's reactions to them. It is not an in depth look at the intricacies of fandom and how teens interact within their online worlds. It is realistic for what it is attempting to do within the plot and story of Scarlett's life. The inevitable happens and Scarlett's fanfic is found, but this is not the dramatic upheaval I was fearing it would be. It has some fallout, but it isn't the most important part of or conflict in the book and I appreciated that.

As an aside, I did rather love that Scarlett's father is a pretentious Franzen wannabe and she totally calls him and all his dudebro fans on their crap in public. Hee!

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