Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here brings a fresh approach to a common girl likes boy story, with major pop culture references.
Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw is quite a modern tale of realistic teen fare. What I mean is it is modern in its many references to pop-culture and social media and it is realistic teen fare in the way it characterizes teens that even adults could probably understand. Or maybe not, depending on what kind of adult you are. Nevertheless, for someone like me who is an adult and reads teen fiction, I found the teens in the book very realistic in the way I see teens are today. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing.
What I do know is that you won’t find any Mary Sues in this book. None of these characters are perfect, and none of them are liked by all. No, not even Scarlett Epstein. She is in fact not a Mary Sue. I bring this up because there’s a certain story within a story that brings up the idea of a Mary Sue, and I find that to be quite the pun.
Author Anna Breslaw brings Scarlett to life as funny, overly-dramatic (not that she thinks she’s much of one herself) but in a very teenager-y way, relatable, and even irritating at times. So, yes, she’s flawed. But as we were all teenagers once, it’s hard to find one that isn’t flawed in one way or another, so it makes sense that the teen protagonist might do or say something to annoy the reader. She certainly did that to me a couple of times.
However despite the girl’s obvious errs in life, I did find the book to be entertaining in that afterschool special sort of way. That’s a good thing for those of you who don’t understand that reference.
Scarlett doesn’t have many close friends, and one of them isn’t even in her age range, but it’s an endearing sort of relationship. The one that is in her age range is her best friend Avery, and they get along as you’d expect best friends to do. They hang out, they eat lunch together, they even argue and kind of piss each other off, but it’s over and done with soon enough without any damage done. Then there’s her neighbor, Ruth, a seventy-three old former teacher who she befriends after approaching her for a school project. Her friendship here makes for some really unique situations in relation to other events in Scarlett’s life, including the crush she has on fellow classmate Gideon.
Like many teens, Scarlett has trouble seeing past her own bubble of drama that she’s involved in. We get to see her act out her grief in losing her favorite television show, knowing that her loss won’t be as devastating to others as it was to her. (I know how she feels as I’ve been there myself, although admittedly, I wasn’t a teenager.) We see how much of a crush she has on Gideon and why it’s more of a heartache for her when she sees someone else with him. We get to see her be brave, be funny, be creative, be forgiving, be judgmental, be mad, and even be selfish, and for that reason, Anna Breslaw has created a teenager that I firmly believe is a person. Multiple persons, in fact.
But there is also a limiting factor in part of the story. Being that I am a fan of certain fandoms, I can understand the idea of having the character firmly obsessed with a TV series, to the point of even writing fanfiction and having friends that you’ve never met in real life (or IRL). This is where we go deep into teen and pop culture and something that maybe not all adults have the concept of down. For that reason, this modern tale might be limited in regards to how it will relate to teens in the distant future. Right now, it works great, though, so it’s something one can delve into and pretty much understand the references of today.
For me, the story picked up in the second half of the book as we got over much of the world-building that needed to be done for us to understand Scarlett. Being that it’s first-person narrated, we’re very much encouraged to sympathize with Scarlett and the ordeals she faces, and only until later do we see how self-involved she can be. Not only that, but due to it being in current times, the lingo, although very much in line with how many young people speak these days, felt a bit overboard, and I would’ve appreciated a little more restraint on that end.
The fun part for me was the way she dealt with most of the challenges put in front of her after her reality-check moments. There was one situation, however, that I felt should’ve been handled better, and unfortunately, that moment to me felt very out-of-character for Scarlett for a couple of reasons that I won’t divulge. But then again, maybe it’s supposed to be. Maybe the author wants to leave some part of Scarlett flawed in a way that shows we’re ever changing, ever evolving, and thus ever learning to make ourselves better. Granted, Scarlett is still a teenager at the end of the book, so it would make sense. Still, for my sake, it is something that will continue to irritate me about the Scarlett Epstein.
Be that as it may, I found the book pretty entertaining. I certainly laughed out loud in some moments and even teared up in one moment as I was reminded indirectly of my own relationship with my mom in comparison to Scarlett’s with her mother. That surprised me, but it shouldn’t. I liked that the story hits points that are comparative to real life, as they should be.
And one thing to point out is that it was significantly shorter than books that I’ve recently read, and I was thankful for it. Sometimes a good book doesn’t have to be three-thousand-pages long. This is one of those books.
Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here hits stores on April 19, 2016, and you can pre-order it now at the following: