YA Book Reviews

Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw

Thanks to the great folks at Uppercase Box for sending this contemporary new release out to me! I got some pretty rad stuff this time around, though I’m going to be taking a break for a little while until I get my money situation dealt with. Who knew cars could be so expensive to fix? /sarcasm. Here’s a photo of my box from April:

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The Book of Advanced Spells is actually a pretty decently sized notebook, though I haven’t had a chance to write it in extensively yet. I have been using the magnet bookmarks while I read – the Buckbeak one is my favorite, but Hagrid is pretty adorable too. This is going to be my last Uppercase box for a little while, at least while I’m home from college and being kept busy with summer work. Regardless of this, have no fear: the book reviews will keep coming, better than ever.

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.

Kid, the first rule of fanfiction is to never use your real name in your work. Your online friends were not kidding when they said your follow-up fanfiction had a massive case of Mary Sue Syndrome. Scarlett’s writing takes up large chunks of this book: either it’s held up as the only thing she’s actually good at, or we’re reading her (extremely mediocre) fanfiction reimagining of how all she wants is for Gideon to pay attention to her and for her best friend’s little sister to stop being a class-A bitch. Ruth, Ave, Ashley, and Scarlett’s mom are some of the most well-rounded female characters I’ve seen this year…but where is the “feminism” that supposedly makes this book stand out? 

Best parts: Scarlett is funny. Big, goofy grin kind of hilarious. Ruth is also endearingly witty, and definitely stole the show whenever she came along in the story. Tied for my absolute favorite parts were when we met one of the online writers IRL, and when we finally saw Ashley cast in a realistic light that shows she has feelings, too. Feminism, right? Honestly, this was just good story development. I didn’t feel like Scarlett broke any records as far as feminism goes, and I really didn’t see anything powerful about the female friendships Scarlett has with Ave and Ruth. Well-rounded female characters, yes. Feminist? I give it an “ehhh” for effort.

Worst parts: Scarlett was a pretty weak narrator. The fanfiction…sub-plot, I suppose, was also all over the place, and difficult to tie into the actual story in any way. And there is the barest of mentions for what happens when her writing is discovered. The WORST that occurs is embarrassment. From the description, you’d think that it would be some journey where Scarlett writes to escape how crappy her life is, then is discovered, then has to rebuild her life or something at least interesting, if a bit formulaic. I was simply bored by the end.

Overall: Funny and endearing, but nothing original or eye-catching about it. A light read with no lasting messages. I found myself wishing I was reading something more unique and captivating like Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom instead of just another basic high school story. Recommended for people with low expectations for contemporary YA lit.

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