Can I tell you how excited I was when I got the NetGalley approval for this book?? I’ve been hearing about it for a while now, and the premise had me absolutely screaming in glee. Fanfic writer goes out on Twitter date with famous actor! Who is secretly also a fanfic writer! WHAT.
This book reads like fanfiction of fanfiction, and I love it. It’s the ultimate AU. Here’s the part where I out myself as an avid fanfic reader: you can give me all of your Stargate: Atlantis slash fics IMMEDIATELY (I won’t say no to Stucky, either). I spend nearly every night reading fic for a couple of hours before I go to sleep, and I work my way through the communities that build up around fandoms and pairings and tropes. When you love a certain OTP (or, ahem, OT3 or 4, but we won’t get into that here), you find yourself recognizing and following the improbably-named authors whose work you enjoy. A lot of times, they follow each other, too. They beta-read for each other, send out writing prompts, create forums and challenges and communities. And they are hugely supportive. This book captures so much of that, and it gave me the exact same feeling of safety and comfort I get going back to read my favorite fics.
Let’s start with the humor here. This book is funny as hell. The parade of improbably hilarious terrible movies in Marcus’ backstory were a fantastic ongoing gag. His interactions with his castmates after seven years together were delightful; I love an ensemble cast that feels like family, in real life and in fiction, and seeing the ways this group grew together made me want to see more of them (I’m extremely ready for the next book!). This book gives good banter in every way; between the main characters, between their friends, and even in the interstitials, which feature both extremely well-replicated fanfiction story introductions (complete with AO3 tags of absolute perfection, by the way) and hilariously pointed excerpts from fake movies that emphasize that Hollywood’s treatment of women has historically been… not great. Even the chat logs of the fanfiction server that April and Marcus use are fantastic (and you could feel the authentic sense of fanfic community coming through here – sometimes ‘people you met online’ are the people who are most intimately involved in your life. It’s the real deal.).
We talk about representation a lot, and I can’t overstate what it felt like to see myself on the page here. April is a lot like me, in her body shape and in the way she feels about her body; she’s a fat girl who grew up fat and understands what it means to navigate society in a fat body but also appreciates that her body is her own, and that it’s worth appreciating. The sex scenes here are gorgeous and SO HOT; they neither shy away from April’s fatness nor fetishize it. Her body during sex is described narratively with the same frank appreciation that the character has for sex in and of itself; April’s a fic writer who knows eroticism, and she doesn’t shy away from it in her personal life, either.
We meet April after she’s done the work to overcome her a lot issues, which is deeply satisfying for me. The book starts out with her taking the action she needs to set herself up in a life that is better for her own mental health – she’s making the move to a new job, and her reasons for doing so are clearly laid out. Not that I don’t love to see people going to therapy in romance novels – trust me, I do – but I really love to see a plot featuring someone who has already GONE to therapy, built up her own self awareness, and created the life she wants to live for herself. That stuff takes work – we all know it – but it’s so nice to see that kind of work paying off in the present instead of battling through it all with the characters. There are reminders that there’s no such thing as a cure-all, especially when your life or your body isn’t the one that mainstream society expects. Being comfortable with yourself doesn’t mean that others will be comfortable with you, but April has done the work to help herself move past worrying about others’ expectations, something Marcus is still working on.
And Marcus himself! First of all, the idea of having one of the actors on a beloved show be an eager writer of fanfiction for the same show because he’s unsatisfied with the scripts he gets is absolute genius, and every single author who has seen this book is bowing down to Olivia Dade for having it and writing it. It’s utterly brilliant. Anyone who’s followed popular culture at all can read the references to Game of Thrones in the fictional Gods of the Gates show – I have never seen GoT (don’t try to convince me to, it’s a choice, not an oversight), but even I recognized the digs about the showrunners and the final season and snickered wildly. For engaged fans, this is a deeply satisfying read on a lot of layers, is all I’m saying. But back to Marcus – whose backstory is painful, and who’s dug himself a hole of his own making, in more ways than one. Normally, I really hate plots where the conflict revolves around mistaken identities that are really just people not identifying themselves to each other – this is probably the first book I’ve ever read where a reasonable explanation was provided for the secrecy. And once that reasonable explanation wears off, Marcus is in too deep – we understand why he doesn’t tell April his last remaining secret, and we suffer the agonies of guilt and terror along with him. There were moments where I wasn’t sure that I was going to believe in a reconciliation after everything fell apart; April’s clarity in defining what Marcus has done to her is so good – ably assisted by all that therapy! – that I was nodding along with her even as I wondered how the author would turn it around believably. (Obviously, it worked, or we wouldn’t be here – I only review the stuff I love, remember?) Marcus has a lot to overcome himself; he’s done an incredible job of finding the ways to accommodate his dyslexia that he needs (and, like April, I’m still mad at his parents, by the way). But he’s struggling to overcome what are essentially his own coping mechanisms; as a character, he’s a vivid picture of the way that we can trap ourselves without meaning to, by doing what should be the right thing, or seems like the right thing at the time. The solutions that served young Marcus to cope with the trauma he received at home were an easy way to cope with the expectations of his professional career; it worked for him, but it’s not RIGHT for him. Dade’s ability to make somebody who is practically too handsome to live as well as being rich and successful a believably sympathetic character in 2020 is beyond impressive.
The ending here was cathartic and satisfying – so many things were resolved (and one thing was resolved in a way that aided the happy ending AND set up the sequel, WELL DONE) and we got to see both April and Marcus succeeding at what they needed to both individually and together. I think by now everyone who reads my reviews knows that I really love a character arc that’s moved forward by the characters themselves, not the magical power of love. Love’s a bonus; April and Marcus get to have each other because they’ve worked hard on their own to become the sort of people who deserve each other. The con experience was utterly familiar and extremely delightful. Frankly, I’m ready to read real fanfiction about these fake fanfiction people. I kind of hope it happens.
The upshot of everything is exactly what I said on Twitter when I finished the book: I finished reading, and now I’m mad, because I wanted to keep reading.