Friday, June 3, 2016

Review: Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here - Anna Breslaw

Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here
Anna Breslaw
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Razorbill
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Guys. I was so excited to read this book. Before its release, it seemed to be popping up on everyone's TBR's (Kiersten even featured it in a Waiting on Wednesday post) and I heard tons of good things so I was intrigued. A fanfiction-writing girl who starts writing about her classmates in the wake of her favorite show's cancellation? Count me in!

Unfortunately, it just didn't deliver. I tried hard to be forgiving, to remember this is how some 16/17 year olds are, to pore through the pages of 5-star reviews on Goodreads, wondering why I was one of the three people who felt differently. It was to no avail, as my opinions remain the same.

The book is told in Scarlett's point of view, and reads like an inner monologue or a journal entry. Something I realized early on was that I really did not like Scarlett as a person. Usually, I don't need to like a character to like a book. Sometimes, I love a book even more if the protagonist is awful (not the kind of awful where you lowkey like them but when they're just a bad person used as a vehicle to tell the story). Like, Catcher in the Rye is one of my favorite books, but no one can deny that Holden Caulfield is a little shit and totally full of it; that doesn't stop me from liking the book. This time, though, I couldn't stand Scarlett or her inner monologue narration and because the book was so entrenched in her and her decisions and her thoughts, it definitely made the whole thing less enjoyable.

She's a junior in high school, so that puts her at around 16/17, but the book reads like the voice of maybe a 13-15 year old. I was reminded of the times I look back on my obnoxious high school underclassman days and cringe at how annoying I was. I didn't expect her to be super mature and self-actualized or anything, but I think she definitely should have been a smidge more grown-up as a human.

I think I realized about five pages in that I wasn't going to like her character when she started going on about her lunch table -- the Girl Geniuses, a group she herself isn't a part of, but is allowed to sit with because her best friend (and her only real life friend) is. She says all this negative stuff about them, like how "it's uncomfortable seeing people try that hard" and making fun of this girl's crazy eyes and her 4.0 GPA. She actually tried to be condescending about how some girl had a perfect GPA, compared to Scarlett's own 2.9. It all just felt very weird because her best friend Avery is in this group too -- she is one of these overachievers, one of these people who "run on Adderall and fear." Also, she talks about how no one understands her except her internet friends and her only solace is fanfiction but if she got off her high horse and stopped judging everyone else people would probably talk to her.

And she doesn't just hate on the Girl Geniuses for being smart and having good grades, she hates on literally everyone. She judges her mom for reading popular novels like Jodi Picoult books and Eat Pray Love and for watching rom coms like Bridges Jones's Diary (one of the best rom coms honestly). She freaking says "I'm Anne Hathaway and she's Jennifer Lawrence!" when she can't figure out why a boy likes another girl more than he likes her. She explains that Anne Hathaway is unapologetically herself and people think she's abrasive and don't like her (for the record, I've never heard anyone say anything negative about Anne Hathaway) while Jennifer Lawrence is fake awkward and her PR team tells her to trip and fall and be "real" so people like her because it's manufactured, and so obviously Scarlett is Anne Hathaway and the other girl is JLaw. She makes some comment about something being "the most destructive force for women's body image since Barbie" which is less "judgey" and more Trying Too Hard to Be Relevant (also I'm not trying to start an argument but I don't think Barbie is the most destructive thing like there have been worse you could have picked a better example). On the same note of trying too hard to sounds relevant and feminist and stuff, Scarlett makes a comment about how she doesn't buy bras that fit because of the patriarchy. Like, Im 100% a feminist, but I would not blame the patriarchy because I didn't know how to buy a bra. Check yourself, dude.

I know I've been ranting for the entire length of this review about why Scarlett is not a good character and I haven't talked about anything else, but it's 60% because I have a lot to say about her and 40% because not a lot happens in this book and it's all Scarlett's inner monologue so that is what I am working with. I'm gonna switch gears and talk about what does happen and then go back to hate. As you know, she starts writing fanfiction about people she knows from school because she doesn't actually know how to write original characters (side note: I don't know why she couldn't write about the show even when it ended. Harry Potter ended and I still read James/Lily fanfiction and they were barely in the books). Of course, she doesn't change anyone's names because she's an idiot, and it doesn't end well for her.

The book took forever for anything to actually happen. It was ~200 pages of Scarlett talking about stuff, and then in the last 80 pages, there's a Sad Thing, a Romantic Resolution, a Confrontation With Mean Girl She Wrote About, and the whole fact that she wrote about people from her school kinda just fades away. It was really disappointing.

I also thought not all the characters were fleshed out. Scarlett clearly was, I just didn't like her. Her best friend Avery, though, didn't seem to have much personality. She didn't serve any purpose other than a best friend role, and all we knew about her was that she was smart and by the end had a boyfriend. Gideon, her own love interest, was a little better, and we knew he liked comedy and was rich, but they always just talked about being misfits and liking comedy and writing when they were together. It didn't get much deeper. The two best characters were Ruth and Dawn, and Ruth isn't even in the whole book. Ruth is her 73 year old neighbor who she befriends because she's ~quirky~ but she's really cool and definitely made the book palatable. Dawn is her mom, who she calls by her first name for a reason that we don't know. It's not because they aren't close, because it seems like they are. It's not because she's too cool for that, because the coolest mom in the world, Lorelai Gilmore, even has her daughter call her Mom, so that can't be it. And she calls her dad "Dad." We just have to roll with it. Anyway, Dawn is funny and a little bit on the fritz and I just really liked her, she seemed sweet.

The whole book is interspersed with the fanfiction Scarlett is writing about the real life people, and while it's a little better to read than her inner monologue, it's still not great. Like, you know how Rainbow Rowell ended up writing the fanfiction from her book Fangirl into a full length novel? I doubt anyone is gonna ask Anna Breslaw to do that anytime in the near or distant future. Speaking of those fanfiction bits, every time she posts one, we see a snippet of her instant messages with her fanfiction writer friends and she gets so mad every time they don't interpret it the way she wants them to, like when they start shipping the "wrong" ships or calling her self-insert character a Mary Sue (which she literally is, that's the definition, a self-insert).

There were a few parts of the book that weren't so bad to read but those were the parts where Scarlett kept her monologue to a minimum. She was really just so sanctimonious. She said stuff about how she felt like "my entire high school experience felt like being the only one who already knows the end of a movie, when everyone else you're going with is excited to see how the movie will end. Spoiler alert: a 20 percent discount at Target" (oh yeah, she seems to think everyone who leaves her high school ends up working at a grocery store forever as if she's from small town in the midwest but she's literally in central New Jersey and as someone who lived there for 15 years I can assure you most people don't do that). Or she had some revelation about how The Great Gatsby makes Daisy look like "a flake" but from her point of view, he's a "flashy, patronizing asshole." As if everyone who ever read the book hadn't already figured that out!

And she would talk constantly about how she was just so funny but she was really not that funny. There were a few gems in the book where I admit her thoughts were pretty amusing, but for the most part she tried way too hard to put on a funny front. In one scene, she comes to the table and says "Yes, this is my cheap-ass poor person lunch," I announce when I sit down with my tray, and they laugh, like they do every time." Tell me that doesn't like a pity laugh because if you don't laugh it'll look like you're taking the "poor" thing too seriously.

By the end, I felt like she hadn't gone through enough character development. Sure, she changed a little, but she's still annoying and judgey, she just doesn't write about real people as much and found a new TV show to watch (speaking of, her wailing over the cancellation of the show seemed really melodramatic. You know how teachers tell you "show, don't tell?" It was a lot of telling us she was sad but not too much showing).

I'm sorry I've just been going on and on, and I'm sorry if you read all this. If you skimmed, the gist is: the book's pacing was way too off, Scarlett as a character was too Awful, and the book wasn't as funny or feminist as it's being lauded for being.

My opinion is clearly in the minority so I won't hold it against you if you go read it, but I saw some pitches saying it was "Amy Schumer meets Rainbow Rowell" and another saying it was "modern day Harriet the Spy" and another comparing her to Judy Blume, and I can say with certainty it's not even a little close.

- Noor

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