Once Upon a Con, Book #1
Heat Factor: Extremely chaste
Character Chemistry: They’re so texty texty cute. In person…¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Plot: Cinderella + You’ve Got Mail + fandoms
Overall: I’m not sure the “Aww” outweighs my rage at nearly every single character’s behavior
This, my friends, is an enemies to lovers sort of a story. But what immediately struck me as it opened with the two protagonists knowing nothing whatsoever about each other, and refusing to let that stop them from making harsh and unkind judgements, was that it immediately speaks to the ways in which geek culture can be incredibly exclusive.
Elle is the Cinderella character, and her outsider status is not exclusively down to her humble beginnings or the fact that she’s an orphan living with her couture-loving, influencer-type step-mother and step-sisters. Elle is a geek. And being a geek is for outsiders. But it’s also an exclusive family for outsiders. Which is somewhat paradoxical, because if you’re in with the group of outsiders, you’re not really an outsider anymore?
I guess it’s one of those things that matters when you’re in high school and cliques are much more relevant in life. It’s hard to write off whole groups of people you don’t really want to be around when everyone is stuck in the same building.
The story begins when a soap actor that Elle thinks is totally unworthy is cast to play the Prince in the remake of Starfield. Because obviously this guy – Darien – doesn’t know the first thing about this fandom, and obviously he’s riding the fame train and doesn’t actually care about the original series, and obviously he’s a terrible choice and he’s just going to make the whole thing suck.
And this exclusive attitude that you, the reader, know is based on an unfair bias is what really exemplified an unfortunate aspect of geek culture, which is that it can be unbelievably exclusive. And misogynistic. (Also racist. But we don’t get into that so much in this book, except that they don’t want the prince to be whitewashed–his being Desi is important.) Please consider that time Kelly Marie Tran was pilloried for, like, existing in Star Wars or that time that a bunch of Whovians lost their damn minds because a woman was cast as the 13th Doctor. (Aside: I am all about geek culture! I feel at home in it! But as with all things, some people just don’t know how to chill out…)
So I really hoped that Elle would come to grips with the fact that she was being exclusive in this space that she believed to be the only space that included her. She was constantly “trying to be a good person” because that was what her dad, the ultimate Starfield fan, would have wanted…but she was also effectively bullying a person she didn’t know on the internet–and going viral in the process–because of her own preconceived ideas about him. It really doesn’t matter if he’s famous or not. Still a person. Still a teenager.
What I got was incredibly frustrated because pretty much every character in this book is incompetent–with the exception of Sage, a.k.a. the fairy godmother, who is a boss–and I wanted everyone to grow a spine. But they’re teenagers, so I guess the lesson is that I really just need to not consume YA. (But sometimes they’re so sweet and snuggly!)
For real though:
- Elle constantly whines about how she has no friends but for the internet Starfield fandom, even though Sage is constantly trying to befriend her.
- Someone is leaking stuff from the film set, and nobody does anything about it (except to say, “Trust no one,” which, WTF?).
- Darien is threatened and he doesn’t tell anyone and then he’s threatened again but he gets in trouble for it and then his handler suggests maybe he shouldn’t go to the Con and then she schedules him for the very activity he said he probably should avoid considering the threats.
- Darien has a bodyguard who somehow never manages to be around when he’s being threatened but is always available for some big brotherly mentoring.
- Darien gave his phone to his handler for safekeeping and she lost it immediately. And they didn’t use any kind of cell phone tracking software to FIND IT. AND THEN when it’s returned to him, Darien tells his handler that “oops, he found it in his pocket” instead of telling her that she totally dropped the ball. This was such a throwaway situation, and I was just completely enraged by the whole of it from beginning to end.
I could go on. I told my husband that I was going to DNF this book at least three times, but I guess I also don’t have a spine. I understand that this is YA and I shouldn’t expect it to be adult fiction. But I also expect that at least the adults in the room in YA will behave like adults. If the teenagers are sneaking around and withholding information, fine! They’re teenagers. But how does a film production team go through leaks (plural!), and the management isn’t down everybody’s throats immediately to find the person leaking the footage?
The other thing I struggled with in this book I was totally meant to struggle with, but it still stressed me out like crazy. And that is the unfair cruelty of some characters to other characters. This being Cinderella, there are evil step-monsters. There are school bullies. Things that can go wrong, do. Also Darien’s dad/manager is totally awful. As is his former best friend. To be sure, part of the narrative is Cinderella pulling through all the BS and cruelty to get her HEA. But cruelty for the sake of cruelty makes me cringe, and there was quite a bit in this story.
All the loose strings were tied up in the end, I’m just not sure that all of the resolutions and explanations and corrected misunderstandings were adequately addressed and explained.
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