Human frailty is the heart of Chris Colfer’s ‘Fanfiction’
Actor’s teen novel feels a little forced, but its aim is true
There’s something about putting people on pedestals when they’re just trying to stand on their own two feet. There’s always a risk they’ll fall and reveal themselves to be human. Chris Colfer’s Stranger Than Fan
fiction (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 304 pp.,
out of four) is a story about that fall.
The actor’s teen novel follows four college-bound friends as they gear up for a cross-country road trip, their last hurrah before life inevitably takes them on separate journeys.
We are introduced to Christopher “Topher” Collins, a smart kid whose ties to his mother and brother keep him tethered to his small town of Downers Grove, Ill.; Joey Davis, a preacher’s son and aspiring actor thrust on a public stage by his father’s calling and compelled to hide the fact that he’s gay; Sam Gibson, a born designer who longs to change the reflection in the mirror and channels that yearning into art; and Moriko “Mo” Ishikawa, a creative writer who finds sanctuary in stories when she can’t find it under her father’s roof.
All dream of a life beyond the stifling suburb of Downers Grove. One hit television show takes them there: Wiz Kids.
Former Glee star Colfer, who also writes the best-selling kids’ series The Land of Stories, knows this territory well and mines his personal experiences to describe the fandom behind Wiz Kids.
Top-lined by child star-turned-Hollywood-bad-boy Cash Carter,
Wiz Kids has reinforced the group’s understanding of belonging and heroes. It’s why Topher sends an email inviting the world-famous actor on their trip, though he would have never imagined the actor would actually join them.
Nor could he and his friends imagine that the real Carter — a rough-around-the-edges, weed-smoking cynic — would stray so far from their romanticized vision. But that is the heart of Colfer’s point: Our heroes are just human.
Unfortunately, the heart stops there. With its stilted narration and self-conscious dialogue, there’s not much room in Fan
fiction to just let the characters be, to let them stand on their own two feet — in all of their color, complexity and conviction — and trust that readers will get it.
The result? Otherwise authentic moments that feel forced and real-life struggles that don’t hit home nearly as hard as they should. Instead of showing characters’ anxieties — about their gender, their sexuality, their economic reality or their romantic one — Colfer explains them to diminishing effect.
Still, in a political climate where people like the teens in
Stranger Than Fanfiction feel under threat, perhaps it’s good that such stories are being told at all. They give space to start a conversation — one that can go beyond the constraints of 304 pages.
Former Glee star Chris Colfer’s tale follows four teen friends.