Beyond the Page: Review of “Ship It” by Britta Lundin
Hiatus season is upon us!
And with it, the lack of regular updates of our favorite shows, leaving us to either binge watch the previous season or sit patiently awaiting the fall when our faves will grace our screens once again.
But take heart, friends! This summer we’re going to be recommending some truly excellent books that will quench your thirst for all things nerdy. Think of these as the summer break required reading assignment you’re actually going to want to complete!
First up, queer YA Romance Ship It by Britta Lundin.
Lundin’s Ship It might be the most meta work of fiction I’ve ever read, including fanfiction. And that is in no way a criticism – there were moments in reading this story where my fangirl anxiety reached peaks so familiar I had to put it down to take a breather. I know the protagonist, Claire. I AM Claire. And if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you are too, which is why you should stop what you’re doing and drive to the nearest bookstore immediately. The realism and catharsis in this pretty fantastical story should be required reading for every fangirl on the planet.
This story starts out right in the middle of a fanfic between Smokey and Heart, the two lead characters from the show DemonHeart. Smokey is a hunter of all things that go bump in the night, but primarily demons. And Heart is a demon with, you guessed it, a heart. The two are sworn enemies, clashing at every turn until they’re suddenly not. Until they’re unlikely allies against other forces. Until they recognize a kindred spirit between each other and –
You see where I’m going with this, right? They’re perfectly shippable.
Except, like most genre shows, there’s nothing canon about this “romance”. There’s only the subtext of the two leads (Perhaps because of the chemistry between the actors and not the writing? Who’s to say for sure?) and a legion of fangirls that have picked up on it. Claire is heart-of-lightness on Tumblr, with thousands of followers and oodles of self-penned SmokeHeart fanfiction. She’s also the nerd most of us have been: isolated and different and unsure of herself – except when it comes to fandom. There, she’s found a home.
So it’s no surprise that when she attends the DemonHeart panel at her local comic con amongst hundreds of other fangirls, she feels brazen enough to ask the question. The question that every fangirl learns early on you never ask:
Will SmokeHeart ever become canon?
The showrunner makes an attempt at a diplomatic and vague answer but it’s Forest, who plays the lead, Smokey, that shoots her down in the harshest possible manner. He clarifies in no uncertain terms that Smokey and Heart are not gay, and especially not romantically involved with one another. And furthermore, she’s absolutely crazy for thinking that. Hysterical, delusional and every other descriptive word that just basically means “Don’t drag me into your sick fantasies, lady.” Have you been there, right where Claire is? Because I have. Hearing your favorite actor discredit your OTP (one true pairing) is downright devastating. And reading Claire’s emotions in that moment sucked the breath from my lungs. Ouch is an understatement.
What follows is a PR attempt to soothe the gaping wound Forest struck to the fandom as they invite Claire to attend the next three comic conventions with them across the country – thus the premise for the rest of the book. Undaunted, Claire makes it her mission to convince the showrunner Jamie that SmokeHeart must go canon.
The other half of the story is told from the point of view of Forest, a young, handsome actor who’s trying to turn his first big-time television role into a major movie career. His biggest hurdle in getting cast as the lead in a movie about his favorite video game (sure to be a big blockbuster hit) is the pesky and determined Claire, filling his fans’ (and more importantly, potential director’s) heads with the lie that he’s gay. Forest draws the conclusion quite quickly that any read of his character being gay automatically follows that he must be too. And, according to him, gay actors don’t get cast as action-star leads.
The story spends a lot of time focusing on Claire and Forest’s individual sexual identity crises, which at times overlap. For Forest, it’s the notion that he feels straight – and he certainly didn’t have a choice to the contrary growing up – but then there’s Rico, the smiley, relaxed, kind co-star who plays Heart. He has eye crinkles. He isn’t bothered when people think Heart might be gay. He loves the fans. He’s at ease in his own skin. So inexplicably drawn to him, Forest has a hard time defining what exactly he does feel for Rico – and how exactly he’s played Smokey’s relationship with Heart onscreen.
For Claire, she meets the friendly and beautifully unique Tess at one of the conventions and feels, in short order, quite different about her than any other person that she’s ever met. Tess has curves and looks amazing in sundresses and has a beautiful smile and awesome hair – and look, it’s a bit more than just a “girl-crush”. Watching the two of them fall in together was at times painful and mostly sweet, not unlike how any first love goes. But at the heart of their relationship was what some fangirls find a defining difference when trying to befriend one another – those that think what’s in subtext should go canon (like SmokeHeart), and those that believe fanon (fan created concepts) should stay with and for the fans. Watching them bridge this gap was a reminder to all of us that how we choose to love and experience a thing doesn’t have to be the same to be valued equally.
I’m keeping this review vague in part because I want to keep you unspoiled. There’s a great many twists and turns in this book, and like I said, there were several times I had to put it down and walk away because I was so acutely reminded of fangirl moments I’ve experienced. The overarching concept of loving something (like a ship) that ultimately doesn’t “love you back” can be very upsetting for anyone who has devoted hundreds of waking hours to proving the existence of, or paying homage to, that relationship via fanfiction or art. Lundin clearly has firsthand knowledge of what being a fangirl is really like – at times equal parts exhilarating, and devastating. As they say, I didn’t choose the fangirl life – the fangirl life gripped me tight and raised me from perdition.
But what was comforting was watching the transformation of Forest, a character who reflects many actors that have found themselves in similar positions, realizing that fangirls aren’t a group of weirdos wanting two people to kiss. It’s by and large a group of passionate, smart, talented women who pay attention to subtext and nuances of acting and writing, and then make an attempt to have a voice in a world where often stories aren’t told by them. A fact that is slowly changing with books like this written by a woman that understands the value fandom has, not only for the longevity of the television show, but also to the individual person who finds their tribe within the shelter of a shared passion.
TL:DR? If you want to love yourself as a fangirl, read this immediately. If you have a fangirl in your life (or several thousand) you want to understand, read this immediately. Or if you just enjoy adorable coming-of-age lesbian romances (and who doesn’t?) read this immediately.
Have you read Ship It already? Or do you have a suggestion for another nerdy book we should read this summer? Let us know in the comments below!