Stranger Than Fanfiction was chosen as one of our book club books this month (by me), and I was really looking forward to reading it. Although I still mostly know Chris Colfer’s name because he played the best character on Glee, I’d heard enough praise of his middle grade fiction that I wanted to try this YA book. Unfortunately, it didn’t really live up to my expectations. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it – I read it very quickly, and if I’m not enjoying a book I find it a slog to get through, so that wasn’t the case here – it just had a lot of potential that I didn’t feel it reached.
Cash Carter is the young, world famous lead actor of the hit television Wiz Kids. When four fans jokingly invite him on a cross-country road trip, they are shocked that he actually takes them up on it. Chased by paparazzi and hounded by reporters, this unlikely crew takes off on a journey of a lifetime–but along the way they discover that the star they love has deep secrets he’s been keeping. What they come to learn about the life of the mysterious person they thought they knew will teach them about the power of empathy and the unbreakable bond of true friendship.
My biggest problem with Stranger Than Fanfiction was the writing style. It was very basic storytelling, and I just didn’t like it. It took me a long time to see beyond the style to the plot, but then that was also a problem. It was just so weird! I know Cash has his reasons for accepting the invitation, but we don’t find those out until the end of the book, and so we spend most of the book wondering why he’s there and it just seems really unlikely. Also, from the descriptions of the show he’s the star of in the book, I can’t see what the appeal is, and I say that as a member of many and varied fandoms. There are so many authors writing excellent depictions of fandom (Maggie Harcourt and Rainbow Rowell spring to mind) that it’s a real disappointment to see how fandom is portrayed in this book.
I liked that there was an attempt to bring some diversity to the book and there is always room for more trans characters in my view, although I couldn’t really understand this particular character’s reasons for keeping their gender identity secret. However, I’m straight and cis, and it’s not my place to judge why someone chooses not to come out.
Despite all the problems, I found myself genuinely caring for the characters, and there may even have been a few tears along the way. It’s just, every revelation seems so forced, rather than organic to the story, and I think this would have been a much better book if it had focused on a group of friends just having fun rather than everyone trying to hide their own world-shattering secret and not noticing that everyone else has problems too. It was pretty obvious where it was going (to me, anyway), and I just think I would have preferred a more character driven story.