Stranger Than Fanfiction
By Mary Eisenhart,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Sloppy narration mars moving, funny, profane road trip tale.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
A bit of geography as the teens make their way from Downers Grove, Illinois, to Southern California, but many of the attractions are made up. Lots of pop cultural tributes and many subjects of homage, from UFOs to James Dean. A diner named McCarthy's is big on the '50s anti-Communist memorabilia and decor. Cash calls an aspiring writer "Jane Austen." A few practical internet tips along the way.
Here as elsewhere in his work, Colfer dispenses a raft of positive messages about friendship, acceptance, and, above all, being who you really are. Some of those messages are breathtakingly trite and/or shallow, while others are deeply heartfelt, such as this from Cash to a fan:
"You didn't act like the show was real, you didn't pretend I was anything but an actor doing a job, and you never asked me for any favors. You just thanked me for the work I did and treated me like a person -- and I didn't get that very often."
Positive Role Models
Protagonist Topher's almost too good to be true sometimes -- a good, smart kid who's giving up going to MIT so he can help his single mom with his disabled brother. But he and the other teen characters are highly relatable as they struggle with assorted coming-of-age issues, many having to do with how to stand up for yourself. And if some of their choices are questionable (as often happens on road trips), they're good learning experiences. Twenty-something Cash, alternately jaded and childlike, is trouble in black shades, but there's a lot more to him than it first appears.
Sex, Romance & Nudity
No sex occurs, though one character is determined to lose his virginity on the trip and uses a hookup app and another spends the night with a couple of female strangers who may be prostitutes or groupies. Lots of gender issues, as one character is gay and struggling with coming out; another is trans and ditto; and a third has a crush on the trans character but knows nothing of that person's gender identity. The trans character gives an extended lecture on the differences among "fluid," "genderqueer," and "transgender."
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Constant strong language, especially "s--t" and variations on "f--k." Also "ass," "goddamn," "MILF." Some of it's for comic effect, as in the case of the Brazilian kid who makes up for his lack of English fluency by throwing in more instances of "f--k." Colfer includes an afterword to parents that says their kids already know the words. One scene involves a punk band called Rosemary's Abortion.
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Products & Purchases
Occasional mentions of real products, mostly for scene setting (Porsche, iPad). YouTube plays a major role as events unfold.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Cash is smoking, drinking, and taking drugs (pills, pot gummy bears) for most of the trip. At various points in the story, the kids also get fake IDs, drink, get stoned, and sneak into over-21 venues. A character admits to having learned his lesson after doing Adderall for finals. Another, explaining the game Never Have I Ever, uses the example, "Never have I ever done a line of cocaine off a CW star's ass."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Stranger Than Fanfiction, by best-selling author Chris Colfer, is about a young TV star who, at the invitation of a fan, joins a road trip four friends are making from their Illinois home to Southern California before they go off to college. It's Colfer's return to YA fiction after a long stay in The Land of Stories, and it's not for the kiddies or the fainthearted. Strong language is constant, if sometimes comic, and the plot involves smoking, drinking, and drugging by both teen and adult characters. One character is gay and conflicted about coming out; another is transgender and also afraid to say anything. Another has a mad crush on the trans character but no idea about that person's gender issues. Hookups and a hookup app make appearances, though no sex happens. There are quite a few sweet moments and positive messages about self-acceptance, friendship, and honesty as the teens grapple with relatable issues and fears, but they're lessened by the nonstop barrage of slapstick and barrage of plotlines, as well as the sometimes phoned-in storytelling.
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What's the Story?
STRANGER THAN FANFICTION finds Downers Grove, Illinois, teens Topher, Joey, Sam, and Mo -- lifelong BFFs bonded over their love for the TV series WizKids -- about to start an epic road trip to California before they go their separate ways to college. Secretly, they're all dealing with big issues: One of them is gay but can't bring himself to tell his religious parents -- or anyone else. Another is trans and also keeping it from the others. Another has a huge crush on the trans character but knows nothing of their status. Meanwhile, Cash Carter, 20-something star of the WizKids series, has been creating quite a stir with a sudden burst of bad-boy behavior -- but it's nothing compared with the stir he causes when, following Topher's casual invitation in fan mail, he shows up on the morning of the road trip ready to join the merry band. Cash, it turns out, is harboring a few secrets of his own. Laughs, tears, life lessons, as well as a whole lot of strong language, ensue.
Is It Any Good?
Few clichés go unmined in Chris Colfer's teen road trip saga, which slaps together appealing characters, relatable issues, poignant moments, hilarity galore, and carloads of foul language. In the author's now-trademark fashion, you never get to ponder a point or savor a moment due to the constant barrage of wisecracks, cartoonish developments, and random weirdness. While the storytelling is often undisciplined and superficial, it also has moments of sheer comic (and useful) brilliance, as here, where the teens are preparing to watch a video with a fellow fan in Saudi Arabia:
"'Wait!' Huda objected. 'They censor my s--t over here -- I don't get YouTube. Can't you play it on your iPad and hold it up to your camera for the rest of us? Pretty please?'
"'Works for me,' Topher said, and loaded the video onto his iPad.'"
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the road trip in Stranger Than Fanfiction. Why do you think road trips are such a popular theme in storytelling? What examples do you like?
Sometimes books, movies, and TV shows generate their own self-contained world of fandom -- think Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Chris Colfer's own Glee. What are the cool -- and not so cool -- things that set the fan world apart from regular life? How might the fan world influence your regular life?
Why do you think there's a saying, "Never meet your heroes"? Have you ever met someone you really liked and looked up to? How did it go?
- Author: Chris Colfer
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
- Publication date: February 28, 2017
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 15 - 18
- Number of pages: 272
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
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