Stranger Than Fanfiction by Chris Colfer explores what would happen if an actor crashed a road trip put together by four of his biggest fans.

About ‘Stranger Than Fanfiction’ by Chris Colfer

Cash Carter is the young, world famous lead actor of the hit television show 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.

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‘Stranger Than Fanfiction’ book review

I will begin this review by saying there is a lot that can be unpacked in a novel like this. Chris Colfer is, of course, best known for his portrayal of Kurt Hummel on Glee, and therefore the story of Cash Carter, star of Wiz Kids, may be seen as a comparison to the author’s own time on a popular television show.

It’s important to note, however, that this book is not a secret tell-all of what happened on Glee, nor is it meant to demonstrate the actor’s own opinions about fame, fandom, and fan interactions. That being said, it’s obvious that Colfer has pulled on his own experiences as a person who has found himself in the limelight. The messages on both sides of the aisle, from a fan’s perspective and a celebrity’s perspective, are clear, and Colfer is able to relay those messages in such a way thanks to his own status.

But I’m not here to to poke and prod Stranger Than Fanfiction to find out how true some of the moments in the book truly are. I’ll leave that up to someone who actually finished watching Glee. Instead, I’m here to just talk about a book written by a New York Times bestselling author who also happens to be a pretty famous celebrity.

I’m a huge fan of Chris Colfer’s writing. I think he has a sassy and fun way of putting words to the page. For the most part, that works for Stranger Than Fanfiction, but I caught myself wanting certain aspects of the story to be as mature as some of the characters. The book’s fictional show, Wiz Kids, sounds ridiculous, but I had to remind myself than anything viewed from the outside can look strange and unappealing. Take Doctor Who or Teen Wolf and try to explain them to a complete stranger who has never seen a single episode. They’ll probably think you’re crazy for ever watching a single episode.

Celebrities are often fans themselves, but few understand the way that fandom operates and why certain shows and movies resonate so deeply with some people. The title of this novel immediately sent up red flags for a lot of fans because the media has not portrayed fan fiction in the kindest of lights. The question on everyone’s mind was whether or not Colfer would be able to display an avid fan’s passion for a television show without making a mockery of it.

Mo is the resident fan fiction writer in her friend group, and the story is a familiar one. She writes fan fiction because she loves Wiz Kids, but she also has dreams of becoming a published author some day. Colfer references E.L. James and the Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey comparison, noting both the pros and cons of what it’s like to be a fan fiction writer. But he never seems to cross that line to shame Mo for her passion.

That doesn’t quite extend to Kylie Trig, a vocal YouTuber who has built a following thanks to the show and has let her own internet fame go to her head. I doubt Colfer is trying to make all YouTubers out to be unhinged, but he doesn’t set up a counterbalance for Kylie’s character. In fact, journalists in general are portrayed as either uninterested in what Cash is up to or only looking to get a snappy headline. It’s hard to argue against this being the case (just scroll through your Twitter feed for a dozen examples), but as with everything, there are those who do not fall in line with the rest.

I feel as though this is a concept that Colfer does indeed understand when it comes to the variety of fans that exist in the world. He shows us there are plenty of people who see Cash Carter as nothing more than an object, sometimes not even considering him to be separate from his character. At other times, however, the author reminds Cash that there are fans, like Mo, Topher, Sam, and Joey, who can love their favorite television show and still see its main star as a real person.

Topher in particular is important for depicting how much a show, even a silly one like Wiz Kids, can impact a person. Art reflects life, and when that art resonates with you, it truly can change you. It can build you up, help you cope, cement friendships, fight oppression, and take you away from reality for a few hours.

It’s this idea that art reflects life that stuck out to me most with Stranger Than Fanfiction. Colfer makes a concentrated effort to give each of the four main characters their own identities and their own stories. The diversity of the group is impressive, and Colfer is sure to play with parental expectations, disabilities, gender identity, sexual orientation, and the pressure of moving away from home and everything you’ve ever known in order to start over and begin your life as an adult.

I have to admit I cared for the characters far more than I cared for the overall plot of the book, but one is necessary in order to have the other. And, alas, I can’t go any further without talking about Cash Carter himself. He is not a likable character, although we do see him grow throughout the course of the book. He learns as much from the four friends and he does teach them about the realities of life. The way he administers truth is not always pleasant, but despite his young age, he has an uncanny ability to read and understand people.

Cash does some fairly unforgivable things throughout Stranger Than Fanfiction, and although I don’t find myself sympathizing with him much, I do understand where he is coming from given all that he has gone through in the 10 years since he had been cast in the lead role on the show. As Colfer says in the Author’s Note at the back of the book, “[T]he characters’ opinions and choices are sometimes flawed. Please do not view their actions as generalizations or examples to follow, but as the mistakes and triumphs of individuals.”

We’re not always meant to like these characters, and that’s okay. I don’t always like real people either. It is a fact of life.

More than being about the power of fandom, Stranger Than Fanfiction is a lesson in compassion toward friends, strangers, and especially celebrities. The times when Cash spoke about the pros and cons of fame were the moments that felt most transparent to me. Cash, and therefore Colfer, wants to remind people that celebrities are humans, too. They are people like you and me. Cash describes the double-edged sword that is fame, and explains concepts such as truth shaming, where celebrities must walk a fine line between being honest and being genuine. They appear ungrateful if they speak their mind and deceitful if they give people what they want to hear. Is there any way to win? The question goes unanswered.

Stranger Than Fanfiction lays down a lot of lessons, though some of them stick better than others. If this book was from any other author, it would be an interesting concept to explore and a fun romp to witness. As it is, because Chris Colfer is the one who penned this, it lands a little bit harder, for better or for worse. It was, admittedly, a risky book for him to write given his own place in the industry, but that also makes its message much more interesting to discuss.

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