Pride Month Book Reviews! #6: Ship It
By Britta Lundin
This book made me legitimately angry. I am so, so upset about this book. If you enjoy reading rants, then this will be your favorite book review from me ever, because this book is OFFENSIVE. And part of the reason for that is I'm this book's perfect target audience. I'm a queer nerd girl who loves dressing up for conventions and watching weird sci-fi shows and reading fanfiction. That's what this book is all about. But this book portrays that culture so, so poorly, despite the fact that the author is a part of it. This book makes all of us look bad, and it preaches viewpoints that I agree with, while executing them in the worst possible ways.
Let me frame this for you. Have you ever had a controversial opinion, and you want to convince someone else that you're right? Then you find a piece of art or literature or journalism or television or ANYTHING that preaches your same viewpoint, but you CAN'T use that to defend yourself, because the person who has that opinion explains it in such a trashy way, so it would just make you look even less credible? That's this book. Imagine you're trying to convince your pro-life grandma that abortion should always be legal. Then you read a book where the main character has these beautifully written, logical, and IMPORTANT rants about women's free choice. But then imagine that the main character is also a literal baby ax-murderer, so giving the book to your grandma would only weaken your cause. THAT'S THIS BOOK.
So, by now, if you know me, or if you've been following this blog, you probably know I'm a hardcore Kirk/Spock shipper. The amount of fanfiction I've read about how those two get together is in the thousands. I'm so deep into it, that not only do I want it to be canon, I genuinely believe it already is (in the original series, not any reboot stuff). I won't spend too much time on that, though, because if you wanted, I could write you an MLA-formatted research paper about why I believe this to be true. But we're not here for that today. I'm just putting this out there to show you how emotionally connected I thought I would be to this book, and how much I thought it would speak to me. IT DOES NOT.
Here's a brief summary of the premise: Claire is a 16-year-old super-nerd who enjoys writing fanfiction, hanging out on Tumblr with other nerdy teens, and watching a new show called Demon Heart (which others have pointed out is a Supernatural rip-off, but I've never seen that show so I can't confirm or deny).
She believes that the two main characters, a demon named Heart and a hunter named Smokey, belong together, because they have palpable sexual and romantic tension on-air. She goes to a convention and asks the creators and actors during a Q&A about whether they will end up in a relationship. They laugh her off and say she's crazy, and she leaves crying. Then, a video of the interaction goes viral online, and the creators realize that their response could be offensive to the LGBT+ community because of the way they laughed off the possibility of a same-sex relationship. Plus, Claire is a social media influencer with thousands of Tumblr followers.
The creators then make a contest and rig it so Claire wins, and as a result she gets to travel with the creators and actors on the rest of their convention tour. Along the way, they try to get good press on Tumblr, and she tries to convince the showrunner to actually have those characters end up together. Meanwhile, Claire keeps running into Tess, a cute fan-artist who draws art based on Demon Heart, who is going to the same conventions as her. While Claire grows more attracted to Tess, she starts to realize that her interest in seeing a same-sex relationship on TV is not something she's just doing for the other LGBT+ kids out there... it's something that's actually personal to her, because she is one of them.
Okay, so that all sounds well and good, right? Sounds like a cute, fun, though not super realistic adventure where nerd girls are validated and queer girls find happiness. And it WOULD be that... if Claire didn't stoop to crazed-stalker-level tactics to manipulate the show's cast and crew. But we'll get into that. First, I want to be positive.
So, with all that in mind, let me start with the things I liked about this book:
|Also the cover is BEAUTIFUL!|
Rico is one of the stars of Demon Heart. He's the older actor, and is more experienced in Hollywood. Overall, he's a nice guy, he's good to his fans, he's good to his coworkers, and he's agreeable to be around. There's nothing bad about him. He's a funny guy and everyone likes hanging out with him. I wish he'd been around more.
Tess is Claire's love interest. At first, I loved her, because she's an artist, she's confident in her sexuality, and she's got cute style. But then later on in the book Tess does something awful, which is overlooked along with the rest of all the awful things the characters do. (Except the straight white men. Whenever they do awful things, they're made out to be Literally the Worst. Because they are, but the other characters shouldn't get a pass either.) She tells Claire's mom that Claire is gay, despite the fact that Claire is not yet ready to talk about this. She just straight-up tells Claire's mom that, as an act of revenge for something else rude Claire did. What a healthy relationship, am I right?
Anyway, I'm talking about good things right now, so let me get back to that real quick:
- The representation
This book features an interracial relationship between two women. That's fantastic! Claire is white, Tess is black, and they're both female. Also, while Claire is pushing for more gay characters on TV, Tess asks her why she hasn't also spent her whole life pushing for more black characters on TV, if media representation is her only goal. This is what makes Claire realize that the reason she cares so much about gay representation specifically might be more personal to her, and she starts to awaken to her LGBT identity. And she also starts to push for more racially diverse TV casts as well.
- The ideas it preaches
There's a beautiful quote on page 122 of this book. If this book were made up of great stuff alike this quote, I would've loved it. But since this quote is said by someone who's an awful human being, it doesn't help my cause at all.
Here it is:
"Every week I get anonymous messages in my inbox telling me I should write a real book. Well haven't I already? What makes what I do different from 'real writing'? Is it that I don't use original characters? I guess that makes every Hardy Boys edition, every Star Wars book, every spinoff, sequel, fairy-tale retelling, historical romance, comic-book reboot, and the musical Hamilton 'not real writing.' Or is it that a real book is something printed, that you hold in your hand, not something you write on the internet? Or is 'real writing' something you sell in a store, not give away for free? No, I know it's none of these things. It's merely this: 'real writing' is done by serious people, whereas fanfiction is written by weirdos, teenagers, degenerates, and women."This beautifully puts into words an idea that I've been trying to articulate to others for a long time. What does it mean for something to be "canon" anyway, when so much stuff is rebooted? This is a question I've pondered a ton as a writer and content creator myself. Is the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot canon, or is it fanfiction? Is the 2009 Star Trek reboot canon, or is it fanfiction? Well, a lot of people would say it's canon in an alternate universe. But that would make ALL fanfiction technically canon, but each within its own separate universe.
Plus, this paragraph does a brilliant job of showing the subtle cultural sexism we've come to accept in relation to storytelling. The majority of fanfiction authors are female, but the majority of writers and directors assigned to reboot franchises in their own image are male. Why does society inherently trust men's interpretations of a work more? Why do people think I'm weird for genuinely believing Kirk and Spock are in a relationship, but JJ Abrams, who has admitted he doesn't even like Star Trek, can just put Spock in a relationship with Uhura and no one cares? Now it's getting personal.
When I originally read that paragraph, I thought I'd hand this book over to other people to help them understand my perspective. I actually gave this book 2 stars instead of 1 on Goodreads for that paragraph alone, along with some great commentary about how teenage girls' opinions are easily disregarded, and how giving a character a same-sex relationship doesn't change who they are at their core. Then, of course, I learned that Claire, the person saying all of these great things, is a garbage human being, and nobody should trust her, so fuck me.
Claire, the main character who is spouting all of these platitudes, is legitimately off-the-wall insane. I'm talking about horror-movie-antagonist insane. This is a girl we're supposed to root for and get behind. But as some other smart reviewers on Goodreads have pointed out, as her actions get more and more outlandish, the book feels like it's about to turn into a slasher about the dangers of obsessive fandom. It does not. Claire remains the protagonist, and we're supposed to root for her, while she continues to stalk her favorite TV show's creators and actors, hack their social media accounts, follow them to their hotel rooms... I'm not even kidding here.
Here are some of the things that Claire does:
- Waits for Jamie, the showrunner of Demon Heart, outside of his hotel room every night to pitch him on the idea of making Smokey/Heart canon. She has told him she's felt this way multiple times, and he keeps walking away because he's tired of having a fan dictate how to write his show. So instead of writing him a letter, or getting the PR manager (who is on Claire's side) to sit down with him and talk it through, she decides to sit outside of his hotel room every night, so that he can't escape until she's done talking. After a while, he gets tired of being stalked, so he spends all night at the bar until Claire falls asleep outside his room. She continues to do this every night.
- Writes erotica about the real-life actors of the show, Rico and Forest. Not the characters. The ACTORS. These are real people. And then she posts it on Tumblr.
- It gets worse. While they're on tour, Claire gets to know Forest. They even get on slightly friendly terms, and he explains that he didn't have a great relationship with his father. Claire then adds a subplot about his father beating him into the erotica she writes. Forest's father never beat him. Claire made that up and put it in her story.
- I need to just emphasize real quick how NOT OKAY this is. Guys, no one loves fanfiction more than me. Write whatever you want about fictional characters -- none of it is real anyway! But writing about REAL PEOPLE in explicit sexual situations, using things they told you privately, and then POSTING IT ON THE INTERNET FOR YOUR THOUSANDS OF FOLLOWERS is not fanfiction!! It is SEXUAL HARASSMENT, plain and simple. Forest sees the story on Tumblr and he feels uncomfortable. Because he just read a story about him and his platonic friend having sex in explicit detail. A story that was publicly posted. NO SHIT he feels uncomfortable about it. Anyone would!
- Claire gets away with this of course. Forest is made out to be the bad guy because he's uncomfortable with it, so Claire thinks that's homophobic or something. Don't get me wrong, Forest is shown to be legitimately homophobic during earlier parts of the story. But this is not one of those parts. CLAIRE, YOU IDIOT. HE DOESN'T HATE THE STORY BECAUSE IT'S GAY. HE HATES THE STORY BECAUSE YOU WROTE MADE-UP EROTICA ABOUT HIM AND SHARED IT WITH THE ENTIRE INTERNET. Am I not coming through clearly enough??!?!?!?
- Also she hacks Jamie's Twitter account. Jamie is a shitty guy through the entire story, don't get me wrong. He admits to queerbaiting, which is not okay. (For those of you who don't know what that means, it's when a showrunner adds sexual/romantic tension between two characters of the same sex so that gay fans will get invested, but then never actually has them end up together, and acts like it's crazy that they'd think that, because they want to keep the macho straight crowd. It's a manipulative marketing tactic, like people who use feminism to market shitty movies. It's not a good thing to do.) But in the end, being a shitty guy is not a crime. Stalking someone, harassing them, and going into their social media accounts without their consent to post your own opinions on it... those ARE all crimes.
- Jamie even says to Claire, "If you don't like what I'm doing with my show, make your own." She brushes this off. But in reality... that's the solution. Claire is a decent writer and she's super passionate about diversity on TV. She has just made all these invaluable Hollywood connections. Why is she not leveraging this to climb the ladder and make her own show? Or better yet, YouTube is a thing. She could start a web show and if it's popular, it'll grow. Or she could study film production in college. There are SO MANY OTHER THINGS SHE COULD'VE DONE. But instead she goes straight-up psycho, and gets rewarded for it.
I'm not even kidding about any of these things. How does anyone think this is okay?!
So, basically, all the good things it preaches about caring about women's opinions, about getting more diversity in the media, about treating gay characters as more than a marketing tactic... all that goes out the window, because the characters preaching it are legitimate psychos. This does more harm than good. It portrays hardcore fans as crazy, when that's the viewpoint it was trying to negate.
Fuck this book.
I read this book on an airplane, and Tyler read parts of it over my shoulder because he was bored, didn't have any books of his own with him, and forgot to charge the Nintendo Switch before we left. Tyler kept distracting me from reading the book by commenting about how trashy it seemed while reading over my shoulder. At first I wanted to argue with him and defend the book, but then about halfway through I realized it was legitimately trashy. I hate when he's right.
Anyway, that's all to say that Tyler requested to have a guest spot on my blog this week to share his thoughts about this book as well.
So, please enjoy our first episode of TYLER'S CORNER.
I know next-to-nothing about this book aside from what I gathered from looking over her shoulder on a plane (and what Savy has told me while ranting after finishing it), so obviously my opinion is highly informed and valuable. Every single time I glanced over to see what was going on, I had new ammo to annoy her with, since she clearly wanted to like the book (sorry, Sav, love you, you’re just fun to pester :P)
The most hilarious thing I saw included the character’s goal being to “make her ship canon”. “Fandom” in general comes off pretty silly to me, but the level of vitriol and perceived ownership of media people have around “shipping” is a whole new level. I’ve seen stories of people offering real money for random people on the internet to reveal the personal information of others because the person likes a certain ship, or makes art of it. The idea that a fan would harass a creator to change their work to suit randos on the internet would be funny if it weren’t so real.
Also, there's this part about the actor Forest, trying to get a role in the movie adaptation of a video game he likes until he realizes the game is sexist. The whole bit about the video game being revealed to be hyper-sexist is so dumb. The details of the game (a mission based on killing specific prostitutes) are clearly intended to reference the outrage around people killing prostitutes (which is in no way encouraged) in Grand Theft Auto, a game where you can kill pretty much anyone. But to make matters worse, the author makes a strawman game unlike any that exists (or at least any that has ever been widely known) and uses it to make a random, last-minute jab at video games in general as sexist, unrelated to the plot at large.
Plus the voice of the author comes off like its written by a middle-schooler, no style whatsoever.
Well, that's my way too passionate review, and Tyler's thoughts based on what he read over my shoulder!
There's just one book left in Pride Month Book Reviews! Then, July will kick off with some more writing tips and other book-related topics, including Furever Home Friends pupdates! And hopefully some more Tyler's Corner coming soon!
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? PLEASE share, because I've been reading Goodreads reviews of it obsessively for days.