Based off of Alex from Target, #famous by Jilly Gagnon is a contemporary love story about a Rachel who takes an innocent picture of her crush Kyle when he’s working, posts it on ‘Flitter’ as a joke to her best friend, and then it goes viral.
But fame isn’t everything for both Rachel and Kyle’s side of the coin and they’ve got to learn to navigate the viciousness of other’s words and the pressure to be enough as they fall in love with each other.
Read the official summary here.
I really, really wanted to like this. I came in looking for a cute contemporary romcom filled with fluff, blushes, and all sorts of sweet snippets. And I did get this, along with a side of fries, cupcakes, and burgers.
But there were parts about the plot that just nagged at me which I couldn’t let go.
Gagnon is a great writer, she creates unique voices for each of her characters and they’re both very real teenagers and could totally be someone you knew from school. All of her characters were special and didn’t seem like carbon copies of someone else. The plot was paced well and didn’t lag.
But I had such a huge problem with the fact that a lot of serious messages were glossed over or left unresolved.
Rachel goes through a ton of harassment and bullying online for posting the picture. People from school and even people who don’t know her insult everything, from her hair to her body size to calling her derogatory names to even death threats.
The misogyny is strongly shown with all the hate Rachel receives from her peers and strangers.
On the other hand, Kyle is reaping the benefits from this fame–his followers zooming into the hundreds of thousands and being featured on The Laura Show (which is basically this book’s version of The Ellen Show). Girls send him hot pictures, he gets tons of positive attention, and he gets corporate offers too. What else could he want?
Which is the same thing he does to help Rachel and the shit-ton of hate she’s getting. He’s completely ignorant to her struggles until after multiple people tell him “Hey, maybe Rachel isn’t enjoying the attention…” and they act extraordinarily obvious in cajoling him into see all of the cruel things they’re saying to her.
Kyle ignores the problem for a large part of the book by saying (paraphrased) “I can’t even manage my own notifications, why would I check out Rachel’s?”
Umm…how about no?
His ignorance is no excuse for not doing anything more than lifting his little pinkie finger to help her. After learning about this, his reaction is to try and soak up more of the fame and interact less with her, which is a pretty halfhearted attempt.
Only when he’s under duress and in between a budding one-sided cat-fight between one of the mean girls, Jessica, and Rachel, does he actually step in to help.
Which leads me into my next topic: The sheer amount of girl on girl hate in this book.
In the beginning of the story, we’re introduced to Emma who is Kyle’s ex-girlfriend and during the time we’re in Kyle’s POV, he readily goes over to her house but then starts to doubt whether he wants to go back into a relationship with her.
And this is all well and dandy until Emma hates on Rachel after she posts the pic of Kyle, likes Rachel when she and Kyle are doing well, and then goes back to hating her for the rest of the book because of Kyle spending time with Rachel.
Likewise, there’s a whole troop of girls at school (like the aforementioned Jessica) and female trolls online who are cruel to Rachel.
By the time I read the conversation between Rachel and Emma where Emma is sympathetic to the hate Rachel’s going through, I was all ready for the following plotline to happen:
- Rachel and Emma bond over how much of a dick Kyle is acting towards them.
- They take a stand against the hate that’s coming towards Rachel.
- Kyle suffers a lonely existence regretting how he played with Rachel’s feelings and asked her to homecoming because it would boost his popularity and maybe help him go to Princeton.
- Rachel and Ollie (the guy who made Kyle realize what Rachel’s going through) start a flirtationship and live happily ever after. Emma realizes she doesn’t need some guy to lean on to be happy.
- The end.
But instead I got an “Everything is better by snorting some instalove.” (Don’t do drugs, kids.) Rachel and Kyle start to fall for each other and–gasp! Most woes are forgotten except for a few vengeful ex-girlfriend Emma scenes.
This isn’t the message I wanted to read, or anyone else to read. It’s fine if there’s a ton of bad stuff in a YA book–racism, homophobia, etc., but only if the protagonists learn what they’re doing is wrong. YA is geared to kids as young as twelve, which is why it needs just a little cushion. (We don’t want to hand a kid a book full of racist shit and then watch them act cruelly, like in the book.)
Saying that there should be no bad or gritty topics in YA is just silly because then tons of famous and popular and beloved books would be burned in a pile. It’s good that teens are slowly exposed to the dark side of life, not just the happy go lucky existence many of them live. But I think it is important to show that these topics are wrong and that people shouldn’t indulge in them.
I think Gagnon had something really good at the beginning, but she introduced serious messages and topics and then left them behind and didn’t fully address the severity of things like “what to do when you get a death threat.”
If she didn’t include these topics to begin with, I think I would have liked this book a lot more because it wasn’t a plot line, but since Gagnon introduced social media hate, I think the plot line about bullying and hate was not touched on enough and was overshadowed by Rachel and Kyle falling in love.
Kyle doesn’t really develop much as a character which is why I still didn’t like him at the end. He starts out as the cute boy and is kind of an airhead, and by the end of the book, he’s still pretty dense. The only reason he became more sympathetic is because he was forced to change, not because he realized he was looking at things wrong.
Rachel was also quite a static character as much of her changes only stem from falling in love.
Overall, I think #famous had a lot of potential to be a meaningful yet fluffy contemporary read, but there were just a lot of parts of the story that contributed to this story falling flat.
Have you read #famous? What did you think of it?