When Mr. Barnhill asked me how my extracurriculars were, I didn’t say anything, because as far as school is concerned, I’m the president of the Misanthrope Society. Also the only member. He told me to consider community college, and I left with a pamphlet about identifying herpes.
—Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here, by Anna Breslaw
Scarlett Epstein’s clothes come from the thrift store—out of necessity, not hipsterdom—her school lunches are reduced-rate, and her mother scrapes together a living cleaning the houses of Scarlett’s more affluent peers. The glamorous life her author father is living in Brooklyn with his gorgeous, brilliant wife and their new daughter makes Scarlett’s life in a boring New Jersey suburb look even more grubby and pedestrian by comparison. Her ex-best friend—and long-time crush—Gideon hasn’t talked to her in years, and her only real friends are Avery, the younger sister of her long-time nemesis, Ashley; and her across-the-street neighbor Ruth, a salty 73-year-old retired women’s studies professor.
Or, well, her only real friends in real life. Because for years now, Scarlett has been deeply involved in the Lycanthrope High fandom online, from live-tweeting episodes to writing some of the most popular and respected fanfiction around. But now, Lycanthrope High has been canceled, and Scarlett’s world is crumbling.
Where to start? Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here was a pleasure from the first page to the last, and I was sad to see it end. Scarlett herself is angry, difficult, sometimes unreasonable and often unfair, and because of that, she feels entirely real. During the first third—maybe even half—of the book, I was concerned about the seeming two-dimensionality of some of the secondary characters, but then Scarlett said this:
It’s been bothering me more and more that I can’t ever see anything objectively; that every observation I make is filtered through my personal lens whether I like it or not.
And wouldn’t you know it, once she has that realization, the people around her start to look a little different—and ultimately it turns out that they aren’t two-dimensional because of a weakness in Breslaw’s writing. Rather, at first, they only appear to be two-dimensional because that is Scarlett’s perception of them. Some readers are bound to bail on Scarlett before she rounds this corner—I have no doubt that she’ll fall victim to the Difficult Male Characters Are Seen As Layered and Complex, Difficult Female Characters Are Seen As Unlikable Horrorshows rule—but readers who stick with her will see her grow and her perspective change, and, if they’re being honest, will probably see something of themselves in her.
It’s about fandom and friendships forged online, about how sometimes it’s easier to be honest with people when you only know them through words on a screen. It’s about how story—the act of creating it and the act of engaging with someone else’s creation—can make for a perfectly healthy way of processing emotion and understanding other people, whether said story originated with Charles Dickens or on the CW.
It’s about how we all embody multiple contradictory beliefs and impulses and traits, and how it’s worth remembering that everyone else does, too. It’s about hard truths: that sometimes, our heroes don’t deserve adulation; that sometimes, the people who we respect the most actually respect us the least; that sometimes, we’re the one being the biggest jerk in the room. It’s about economic class, feminism, publishing, fame, ambition, loyalty, family, and assumptions. And mostly, it shows that if we’re receptive, if we’re willing to watch and listen and think and learn, that the scales will fall from our eyes and we’ll begin to see our world—and the people in it—entirely differently.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.